(Updated) The man killed in an early-morning fire Wednesday at the University Towers condo complex has been identified as Charlton H. Gilbert—a descendant of A.C. Gilbert, the inventor of the Erector Set.
Gilbert lived in Apartment 6P of the 17-story complex at Crown and York streets for over 30 years, according to neighbor Dorothy Esdaile, who knew him simply as “Chuck.”
Gilbert was “a nice guy” who worked at Stop & Shop, she said. He was 63 years old.
Charlton Gilbert was the son of the nephew of A.C. Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company, which created the Erector Set, according to A.C. Gilbert’s grandson, Jeff Gilbert Marsted.
Charlton Gilbert died Wednesday in a 4:31 a.m. fire that erupted in his apartment. The fire left three other people injured.
Firefighters from Engine 6 rushed to Apartment 6P, according to Fire Chief Allyn Wright.
“The flames were coming out of the window where the balcony is,” he said. “Engine 6 did an excellent job of containing the fire to the apartment itself.”
The occupant of the apartment, a man believed to be in his 50s, was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The building was evacuated.
Another tenant went to the hospital after complaining of chest pains, Wright said. Firefighter Anthony Reese also went to the hospital after complaining of chest pains. Firefighter Richard Chatterton was being treated for an injured foot.
University Towers is a co-op, one of several residential towers built a half-century ago during urban renewal.
Wright said the department is unsure how the fire started. The fire investigation unit was on the scene at 8:30 a.m., and most tenants had been let back in to their apartments.
Acting Battalion Chief Brian Jooss said half of the sixth floor remained closed off as of 9 a.m.; people were allowed to return to the rest of the building. Because of the fatality, state fire marshals had been called in to investigate the fire along with New Haven fire investigators.
Fire damage was contained largely to the victim’s apartment, where the windows were all blown out. The man was alone in the apartment at the time of the fire.
A number of other sixth-floor apartments sustained water damage, as did a stair tower, according to Wright.
Esdaile (pictured), who’s 84, lives down the hallway from the apartment where the fire took place.
“I woke up to someone banging on the door” at 4:40 a.m., she recalled. It was the fire department. “You got to get out!” firefighters told her.
“So I got myself together and I got out,” Esdaile said. By that time, the hallway was filled with smoke.
Firefighters helped Esdaile, who walks with a cane, walk down six flights of stairs. She had trouble breathing, so they sent her to the hospital for smoke inhalation. After being checked out, she returned to the scene at 9 a.m. to collect some belongings.
The fire department was airing out her apartment, which was undamaged by smoke. “It smells pretty good,” Esdaile said.
Esdaile said she has lived in the building since 1980. She has never experienced a fire there before.
Florestine Taylor lives directly below 6P, on the fifth floor. She awoke to “crashing and noise” at 4:30, pulled on her robe, went out to the balcony, and looked up. “The flames were shooting out!” she said.
She went out the hallway, where cops were arriving on the scene. “Get out! Get out!” they told her. She did, safely. Now the Red Cross is putting her up at a Best Western in North Haven while her apartment is repaired.
Another fifth-floor tenant, Joe Taylor, is a collector with a renowned archive of thousands of old New Haven postcards. (Read about that here.) Standing in the complex’s inner courtyard later Wednesday, he reported that the postcards survived the incident intact.
Paul Bass contributed reporting.