Fire rousts 240 from hotel

Blaze confined to mechanical room

no one is injured


April 14, 1999|By Kris Antonelli and Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Kris Antonelli and Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Sleepy guests, including state legislators exhausted from end-of session partying, were roused from their beds at the Wyndham Garden Hotel in Parole when a small fire in a mechanical room set off blaring fire alarms yesterday morning.

More than 240 guests of the hotel in the 100 block of Jennifer Road huddled in cars and buses for more than an hour to ward off the chill as firefighters extinguished the blaze.

Del. Kevin Kelly said he couldn't believe it when the alarm sounded. "I threw on some clothes, came downstairs and here I am," said the Allegany County Democrat, wearing jeans, a white shirt and a blanket in the hotel lobby.

Besides legislators, the hotel was playing host to the Naval Academy's minority recruiting conference, and buses being used for that event came in handy for surprised hotel guests, most of whom thought they were dealing with a fire drill until they saw more than a dozen firetrucks and paramedics outside the hotel.

"I've had a dozen false alarms go off in hotels that I've stayed in, so I wasn't in a great hurry," said Robert Charbonneau, a sales executive from San Francisco and frequent business traveler. "Then I got dressed and heard a lot of people running down the hall and thought, `Well, maybe there's something to this.' I just put on slacks and a shirt. Foolishly, I didn't grab a sweater or my car keys, or I could have sat in the car and stayed warm."

The alarms, which automatically notify Anne Arundel County

EMS/Fire/Rescue, sounded in the six-floor hotel about 7: 20 a.m., said Battalion Chief John Scholz. Meanwhile, hotel employees called the fire department, saying they thought there was a fire in the kitchen.

Second alarm sounded

Firefighters arrived to find heavy smoke coming out of the back of the hotel and sounded a second alarm to summon 33 more firefighters. They discovered a fire in the first-floor mechanical room, where the elevator hydraulic pumps are kept. Burning hydraulic oil sent heavy smoke out the first-floor room, Scholz said.

Firefighters quickly extinguished the fire and searched the floors for guests who had not gotten out. No smoke had reached any of the upper floors, but firefighters found a woman trapped in an elevator that had stopped working, he said. She was not hurt.

Paramedics took a 66-year-old woman from Atlanta to Anne Arundel Medical Center for observation. Scholz said she had no specific complaint.

The fire was extinguished by 7: 39 a.m., he said, and guests were allowed back in the building at 8: 45 a.m.

Investigators from the State Fire Marshal's office and the county fire department blamed the fire on an overheated elevator motor.

By 9 a.m., guests were milling around the lobby and relaxing over coffee, bacon and eggs in the hotel dining room on the first floor. Fire investigators hurried around the hotel checking the alarm system.

`There was no panic'

"We had a really good response from the fire department," said hotel manager William Stoinoff. "A lot of the guests were already awake and in the lobby. There was no panic."

Kathy Manning, coordinator of a skill-developing seminar in the hotel yesterday morning, said her program began only a half-hour later than scheduled because there was no commotion before and after the evacuation. Managers worked with her after the evacuation and offered complimentary refreshments to her group.

Manning said she was setting up her registration booth when the alarms went off.

The guests who had to wait out the fire outside the hotel wore everything from bathrobes to shorts to well-pressed suits. Conversation centered on how the fire could have started and the guests' schedules, Manning said.

"It was predominantly business people that were concerned about being on time for meetings," Manning said.

Smelled smoke

Shantae Price, a legislative assistant who was staying in a sixth-floor room at the hotel after a long night of celebrating the end of the Assembly session, said she worried when she smelled smoke while walking down the stairs.

"We didn't smell any smoke until the fourth floor," said Price, a Baltimore resident. "You realize that you could be getting closer to the fire and I wondered, `Am I going to be able to get out of this? Am I going to see my son again?' He's 5, and I want to see him grow up.

"When I got the call [about the fire], I started looking around in my bag for pants to wear." In the stairwell, she said, "I thought, `I took all that time trying to find a pair of pants, and now I'm smelling smoke.' "

Charbonneau said the fire will be etched in his memory for a long time.

"This is the first time I'm in Annapolis," he said. "I don't know if I'll be back for a while, but I'll certainly remember the trip. It's a pretty exciting place."

Sun staff writer Joel McCord contributed to this article.

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