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Daughter of man who died in fire calls assisted living facility negligent

Lawsuit pending: Documents assert sprinkler system hadn’t worked in five months
Colonial Assisted Living sign, where fire erupted, May 11, 2022
Posted at 6:07 PM, Jun 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-09 09:46:40-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Andre Belanger, 80, died in a fire that was contained to his room at the Colonial Assisted Living Facility at 2090 N. Congress Ave. in West Palm Beach on May 11. 

The lawyer for Belanger’s daughter said a broken sprinkler system led to his death and that the assisted living facility put its workers and residents at risk. 

“He was my hero growing up,” Julie Kiedis-Szukics said of her father, who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War. “In his later years in the service, he was an electronics engineer.” 

“We have a fire here,” said a caller from the assisted living facility the morning of the fire in Belanger’s room.  

Chopper 5 above fire at Colonial Assisted Living, May 11, 2022
Chopper 5 flies above Colonial Assisted Living, where a fire in a room claimed the life of a victim.

“Where is he? Where is he? You must get him out!” shouted the caller. 

According to the fire investigaton, Belanger was dead when rescue crews got to the scene. 

After the fire, the facilities manager told investigator that the "sprinkler system has been out of service since around December,” according to the fire investigaton's report.  

Included in the report, the plant operations manager added the water pipe broke two days before Christmas and “then on December 25, 2021 the sprinkler pipe broke again, and it has been shut off since.” 

“What we had here, was just an absolute tragic set of circumstances,” said Scott Fischer, the attorney for Belanger’s estate, “that led to an assisted living facility resident right here in Palm Beach County suffering a tragic and horrible death that we’ve learned and believe was incredibly preventable.” 

Read the fire investigation report:

Two workers at Colonial Assisted Living told the fire investigator of their desperate effort to try to rescue Belanger. 

According to the report, one worker said that when she opened the door, “a big cloud of smoke came out.” 

Another added, “I was screaming for Mr. Bellinger (sic), but I couldn’t see him.” 

“And he was there all by himself and he wouldn’t know what to do, you know,” said Kiedis-Szukics of her father who had Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. “That’s gotta be the worst thing…oh it’s tearing my heart out.”” 

Contact 5 spoke to colonial’s CEO, Ricki Kaneti, by phone. She said she had no comment.

In the fire department’s report, Kaneti said she did not know the water was completely shut off to the sprinklers and that she’s hired a company to repair the sprinkler system.  

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