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Seniors briefly evacuate Saugatuck apartments when gas valve malfunctions

Fears about a potential gas leak at The Saugatuck housing complex for senior citizens -- on one of the coldest days on record for years -- were quickly defused Tuesday afternoon.

Firefighters were dispatched to the Bridge Street apartments after the odor of gas was detected about 1:30 p.m.

Some of the building's 36 residents -- ranging in age from 65 to 94 years old -- evacuated the premises while officials assessed the potential danger.

However, full-scale evacuation proved unnecessary when it was quickly determined that a faulty release valve on an exterior gas meter was to blame for the odor, according to Assistant Fire Chief William Dingee.

"We didn't have heat for a day," said Shaun Cullen, the building's superintendent. He said the gas company was called to turn it back on, and when the crew arrived at the housing complex found there was a problem with the release valve.

He said he called the Fire and Police departments because they weren't sure if it was safe for residents to remain in the building, especially after detecting the odor of gas.

He said many residents left in their own vehicles, while others were escorted by their nurse's aides. "We didn't have a specific place for them to evacuate to," he added

After investigating the origin of the odor, it was determined it was not inside the building and that the residents would not be endangered by returning to their apartments, Cullen said.

He said the gas company also restored heat in the building, another reason that residents of the converted elementary school at 35 Bridge St. were allowed to return.

Nearly all of the residents began returning by 2 p.m.

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