‘It was a pretty dire situation.’ Sacramento senior complex lost A/C at worst time

A young man dives from the high diving board at the Barbara Morse Wackford Community & Aquatic Complex on Sunday in Elk Grove.
A young man dives from the high diving board at the Barbara Morse Wackford Community & Aquatic Complex on Sunday in Elk Grove. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

After an air conditioner broke at a Sacramento low-income senior housing complex, SMUD spared hundreds of residents from having to bear days of scorching temperatures.

When the air conditioning stopped working Sunday night at the Greenfair Apartments, 56th Street and Fairgrounds Drive, facility managers began to panic. Sacramento was set to face record-breaking temperatures of more than 100 degrees on Monday, threatening the health and safety of the roughly 225 residents living in the complex, according to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

Cooling fans were used to keep the heat down inside, said Jim Perley, managing member of the partnership that owns the apartments. But by 4 p.m. Monday, the upper levels were experiencing 95-degree temperatures, with the lobby at a slightly less searing 87 degrees.

“That facility was heating up, so they were frantically trying to call someone for assistance,” said Jeff Briggs, SMUD Emergency Preparedness program manager. “It was a pretty dire situation.”

To make matters worse, most of the residents are Ukranian immigrants and primarily non-English speaking, Briggs said. The average age of those living at the apartments is 80, and many residents have pre-existing health conditions, he added.

“Because of their cultural background, they don’t ask for help and many of them would not even come to the door,” Briggs said. “It posed a particular challenge.”

Sacramento County Office of Emergency Services was called to the scene, as were maintenance contractors, who discovered that the air conditioning broke due to a blown fuse.

The specialized fuse – with a higher amp for larger buildings – had to be ordered and shipped from a Midwest supplier. The facility quickly realized “it would be a day or two before they would get the air conditioning up” again, Briggs said.

Even though it wasn’t a power-related issue, the Sacramento County Office of Emergency Services contacted SMUD to see whether it could help. Because the utility district’s nearby headquarters has a large stock of parts, an on-call electrician was quickly able to find the exact fuse needed at Greenfair.

“We were very fortunate we had the right piece of equipment,” Briggs said. “Turns out it was only about a $200 item.”

By early evening that same day, contractors were able to install the fuse and restore cool air to the apartment building.

“We were pretty happy to assist in just a little way and provide support staff, particularly because we’re still looking at at least three more days of 100-degree temperatures,” Briggs said.

Though the air conditioning was fixed by Monday night, city spokeswoman Linda Tucker said that a cooling center at the Oak Park Community Center had been established for residents in the afternoon within an hour. The center also had water supplies and kennel services for those with animals.

While she can’t recall a time when the city has had to encourage a large group to evacuate an area and move to a cooling center, Tucker said the incident was an important opportunity for the city and county to test out its emergency response capabilities.

“It was a situation where things were moving very fast, and we thought it could lead to a serious outcome,” Tucker said. “It just shows that when you have an urgent need like that, we can and do collaborate with multiple agencies.”

Heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses can be deadly - and sometimes tricky to recognize. Here's what you need to know to stay safe when the temperature skyrockets.

Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks: 916-321-1418, @ayoonhendricks

Related stories from Sacramento Bee