Family: Teen died trying to save friend from GR home fire

Grand Rapids

***UPDATE: Fire investigators have released an update regarding the cause of the fire which contradicts accounts by relatives. Find that update here.***

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Two men were killed in a fire at a Grand Rapids adult foster care home early Saturday morning.

Both people killed were on the second floor of the home at 1018 Widdicomb St. NW when the fire broke out. A 62-year-old man died at the scene and an 19-year-old was taken to the hospital, where he died from his injuries.

The Grand Rapids Fire Department has not released the names of the victims, but family members identified the 19-year-old as Michael Kolenbrander.

Kolenbrander’s family told 24 Hour News 8 he made it out of the home, but then went back inside when he didn’t see his friend, the 62-year-old.

“Know that he could have lived but didn’t just makes it a lot harder,” Kolenbrander’s older brother Gregory Kolenbrander said.

He said he and his brother were adopted together as babies. Just one year apart in age, he said they were best friends.

Gregory Kolenbrander he didn’t want people to dwell on his brother’s death.

“More dwell on the fact that while he was alive, he was a great kid. He had a big heart. He’d give you the shirt right off his own back,” he said.

A source told 24 Hour News 8 that a third victim was taken by ambulance to the hospital and was said to be in fair condition. Around 12 people inside the home made it out safely on their own or were rescued by fire crews.

The Grand Rapids Fire Chief John Lehman told 24 Hour News 8 it appears the home’s smoke detectors did not go off during the fire. The chief says the home had a hardwired system but fire investigators are not sure if it was working properly.

“That is something that definitely could’ve played a factor in this,” Lehman said.

State licensing records show Amant AFC is registered to care for up to six mentally ill, developmentally disabled, aged, physically handicapped or traumatically brain injured individuals. Records show the state conducted its latest inspection at the home in June and found the home to be suitable.

“This facility was determined to be in substantial compliance with rules and requirements,” the inspection report read. “I recommend issuance of a regular license to this AFC adult family home (capacity 1-6).”

The inspection included fire safety, the report said. It confirmed that fire drills had been conducted, and that fire safety was observed with proper equipment in place.

Reached by phone Saturday morning, the home’s owner Ashley DeBoer said she was devastated by what happened. She said she believed the fire started toward the front of the home but had no idea what might have caused it.

“We’re not even sure,” an emotional DeBoer told 24 Hour News 8. “We’re waiting on the investigation.”

DeBoer said she and her husband managed the home and lived there together with their children and patients at the home.

She said victims of the fire are adults that were not her family members but she declined to confirm that they were patients.

“We’re still in shock,” DeBoer said shortly after 3:30 a.m. Saturday.

Michael Kolenbrander had been living at the home since January, his family said.

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