Update (11:30 p.m. Tuesday) Damage to the garage and contents of two apartments was estimated at $100,000 and the cause remained under investigation late Tuesday, Brookfield Deputy Fire Chief Brian Gerner said in a release.
Two maintenance workers for the Mandel Group rescued an elderly couple from their fiery Brookfield apartment building Tuesday afternoon — and then rescued their pets.
Maintenance technician Matt Potts said he was working with his supervisor Brad Schmidt in a nearby building in the Woodlands of Brookfield complex when he smelled smoke shortly before noon.
"We saw flames coming from the garage and we knew there was an elderly couple there who couldn't get out," Potts said.
He and Schmidt ran to the back door of the apartment building in the 18000 block of Astor Court and found the elderly man on his bed and the woman in her kitchen. The man uses a walker to get around and Potts said he just "lifted him up by his shoulders from behind" and carried him out of the house.
The woman was able to walk with help, but didn't want to leave, shouting at him to let her go back in to get her purse and other belongings.
They stayed out and their dog and birds also were rescued.
Potts said he was only inside a few minutes but by the time he was getting out, "the smoke was just so thick. I was choking smoke and couldn't see anything, couldn't breathe."
Brookfield Fire Chief Charlie Myers said the couple was not injured, evaluated and declined medical attention. Authorities and Mandel were working to locate a place for them to stay Tuesday, either with relatives or others.
Also left without an apartment were Brandon and Leslie Smith and their two children, who lived in the side-by-side unit. The fire appeared to have started in the elderly couple's garage but the exact cause was unknown, Myers said.
Leslie Smith said Mandel called her at her work in Milwaukee to alert her to the fire and she rushed home in "disbelief."
She and her husband had just renewed their lease. They married in April and moved from two Muskego area homes into the smaller Brookfield apartment.
"People say it's just material things, but we just got married in April and they are the things that we just starting bringing into our life."
Smith worried the condition of their wedding photos, including the ones she said she had lovingly displayed up the staircase wall. "But in today's world I can probably replace all of them," she said.
The bedroom wall for Brandon's 10-year-old son was burned above the garage.
"Six years work of LEGOs is probably burnt," his father said, noting his son has set them up against that window wall.
Thankfully, he wasn't home yet from school, the parents said. The fact that everyone survived is the most important thing, they stressed.
Fire crews said the sprinkers had not gone off in the Smith's unit, so that saved water damage. The amount of smoke damage was not yet known and Mandel construction crews were on scene right away assessing the structure to try to determine what work would be needed before the residents could return.
Brookfield fire got the call at 11:48 a.m. and the garage was "fully engulfed" when the arrived and the couple were already outside, with the help of the maintenance workers and police officers who arrived before fire personnel, the fire chief said.
Assisting at the scene and at Brookfield's fire stations were crews from the Town of Brookfield, Elm Grove, Lisbon, Menomonee Falls, New Berlin, Pewaukee, Wauwatosa and West Allis fire departments. Brookfield sought mutual aid not only to help fight the fire but to back up the city as its personnel responded to other calls at the same time, including a motor vehicle accident.
"They were a great benefit to us," Myers said. "We had a quick knock-down on the fire."