Fire marshal closes 'unsafe' veterans home

TAMPA — Connie and Bill Blaney look at their Liberty Manor for Veterans and see an humanitarian home, a sanctuary for war veterans.

Fire officials look at the American flag-festooned house on Ninth Street and see danger.

"From a fire and life safety perspective, they are in danger," said Tampa Fire Rescue spokesman Capt. Bill Wade.

This week, the Tampa fire marshal told the Blaneys the facility, which housed 17 veterans, was not up to code. It lacked a sprinkler system, fire alarms and proper fire exits, fire officials told the Blaneys. Without them, it could not be safe for so many people, Wade said. Some would have to move.

"They blind-sided us on Monday, and they're displacing 13 American veterans today," said Jeff Luddeke, the facility's executive director.

On Friday, many residents of Liberty Manors at 10015 N Ninth St. and 9806 Myrtle St. had to find a new place to live. The Fire Marshal's Office and the city Housing and Community Development office helped the men, several of whom are unemployed and disabled.

Michael Schneider, 38, was one of those in limbo. "It's very stressful," he said, sipping soda and waiting for news. An Army veteran trained to operate forklifts, he's having trouble finding work. This was a place to live and to connect with other veterans, "a nice place," he said.

Inside, the home looked spacious and clean. Several men sat on chairs and couches in the living room. Fresh pizzas sat stacked on a table in the back porch, and a radio played country music.

The Blaneys, of Carrollwood, said they thought they'd followed all the city's guidelines when they converted the single-family house into a veterans home. They bought it two years ago, hoping to provide shelter for homeless vets, said owner Bill Blaney, who is retired from an electronic marketing business. Their inspiration came from Connie Blaney's work as a liaison at the Hillsborough Public Defender's Office, he said.

The veterans, who have served in wars from World War II up to the Iraq war, said they pay $500 a month to live there.

The Blaneys borrowed against their personal residence to start the home, and don't have money for the repairs, which could be more than $60,000, he said.

"I'm looking at different options," he said. "I'm pretty much up to my eyeballs with these two properties." Still they have no plans to give up.

Blaney said he's not angry at fire officials, just confused that he didn't know about the code requirements. He went before the City Council and tried to follow all the rules, he said.

Tom Davis, 82, is one of four residents who still allowed to live at the home. The World War II veteran said he felt bad for those who must leave, and for the Blaneys. "They take very good care of us," he said.

News researcher John Martin

contributed to this report.

Fire marshal closes 'unsafe' veterans home 05/02/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 7, 2008 10:54am]

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