Realty Residents Get Some Items Back From Building

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — A photograph of her and her mother at a Christmas party, a throw made by a friend and a drawer of political memorabilia are among the items Tracey Winbush got back from her Realty Tower apartment.

“It’s things like these that you want to get out,” said Winbush who lived on the 10th floor for five years. She took the throw with her when she moved to Los Angeles and when she returned to Youngstown, her hometown.

“But the important thing there is, we’ve got our life, we’ve got our memories, we’ve got our friends,” said Winbush, who lived in the building with her mother, 94. “And we thank God for the fire chief and for the firefighters that went in.”

Fire Chief Barry Finley and a handful of off-duty firefighters who volunteered for the work entered the building  Wednesday to retrieve residents’ belongings. Each resident was allotted a 22”x14”x9” bag that firefighters filled with items residents listed.

Finley said he wanted to help Realty residents.

“I can’t imagine leaving my house this morning and not being able to come back,” he said. “Everything me and my wife have in our house is there and they’re going to tear it down and we have to stand there and watch it. If there’s something that we can do as firefighters, as public servants, I think we should do it.”

Youngstown City Fire Lt. Pat Bundy and Chief Barry Finley carry bags from inside Realty Tower apartments Wednesday morning. Residents were allotted one bag per person who lived in the building.

A May 28 explosion at the building displaced the residents of Realty’s 23 apartments, killed an employee of the Chase Bank branch on the first floor and injured several others.

Residents haven’t been able to return to the building since the explosion. The Stambaugh Building across the street remains closed and International Towers was evacuated in mid-June due to concerns about Realty collapsing.

Besides Finley, Lt. Pat Bundy, Investigator Charles Hodge and firefighter Sean Guerrieri worked to retrieve residents’ possessions.

“I was here during the initial response with this so I’m familiar with what to expect with the building,” Bundy, a 15-year department veteran, said. “I understand we’re not moving in — we just want to help people get their heirlooms. I was available and this came up.”

His family members aren’t happy about him entering the building, he acknowledged, adding they asked why he had a death wish. 

“I’ve been in the military — did some combat tours.” Bundy said. “I’ve been doing this for 15 years. I understand what to expect. It’s really just, I could help out.”

Firefighters entered the building going into each apartment to gather items. Residents, as well as representatives of YO Properties 47 LLC, which owns the building, and Live Youngstown Property Management, the property manager, assembled in a tent in the lot behind the building.

Residents greeted each other and chatted, talked on the phone and some ate as they waited for firefighters to bring out bags of their prized possessions.

The building will be demolished and paperwork submitted to the Mahoning County Building Inspection Department said that work will begin Thursday. 

Dina Pierce, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, said in an email that “An Ohio EPA inspector has been on site and will be performing inspections throughout the scheduled demolition activities.”

Pierce said in the email that the agency has been in contact with “multiple parties” regarding the Realty site.

“We have provided guidance to the building owner and demolition contractor about Ohio regulations regarding asbestos management during demolition,” the email said.

“Ohio regulations typically require regulated asbestos to be removed before demolitions or renovations. In circumstances where asbestos is unable to be removed due to safety concerns prior to demolition, debris should be kept wet to prevent asbestos particles from becoming airborne and handled by an Ohio EPA licensed asbestos contractor. The regulations include requirements for advance notification of demolition, inspections, and proper waste handling and disposal.”

Regarding the safety of removing asbestos from Realty, she said Wednesday that OEPA awaits additional information about the building. 

“Until we have that, the determination is pending,” the spokeswoman said via email. 

Winbush said she and other Realty residents want to be compensated for the things they lost. 

“But getting little tiny things back mean a lot too,” she said.

Pictured at top: Realty Tower resident Tracey Winbush displays a photo of herself and her mother that’s among the items Youngstown firefighters and Chief Barry Finley retrieved Wednesday from her apartment in the building.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.