For most people, Thanksgiving is a time to spend with family, sharing a big meal and preparing the surroundings for Christmas. For residents of Barclay Friends Living Community in West Chester, Pennsylvania, this Thanksgiving was about coming to terms with tragedy and loss. The week before Thanksgiving, the assisted living facility that housed more than 150 senior citizens burnt to the ground. According to ABC News, all but four residents were able to be removed before the fire overwhelmed the building, but questions remain as to where and how the fire originally started.
A Collaborative Effort Saves Lives
Thanks to hundreds of first responders, as well as staff and neighbors who saw the blaze from their homes, seniors were walked or wheeled out of the building in wheelchairs and hospital beds; ambulances quickly shuttled many of those to local hospitals. Others were picked up by family members. The cooperative effort of the local community saved lives and kept the fire from claiming more lives.
Structure Fires In Nursing Homes
Structure fires originating at nursing homes are rare. Between 2012-2014, only 26% of fire calls at nursing homes were ‘nonconfined’ fires. The majority occurred during the morning or early afternoon, and most often as a result of cooking. Fires caused by resident judgment (smoking in bed, arson, etc.) typically cause more damage but rarely do they extend past the room of origin. History has proven, however, that fires such as the one that occurred last week are not unheard of. In November of 1963, the Golden Age Nursing Home in Fitchville, Ohio was the site of a devastating nursing home fire. Caused by faulty wiring, the blaze resulted in the death of 63 seniors and staff. Most died because they were restrained in their beds or stuck in wheelchairs that were too wide for the doorways. While conditions have changed drastically since that time, the consolation is minimal for those who have loved ones living in nursing homes.
Fire Safety And Your Loved Ones
Modern nursing homes are expected to maintain a strict safety protocol to lower the risk of fire. In addition, they must have a course of action in the event of a fire and practice evacuation procedures on a regular basis. Some of the more obvious ways to minimize the risk of fire in a nursing home include:
- Designate particular areas for smoking
- Keep residents from lighting a cigarette in their room
- Note any electrical problems and report them to administrators
- Train the cooking staff in fire safety and what to do in the case of a kitchen fire
- Keep the sprinkler system and smoke detectors in working order
No amount of preparation can totally eliminate the risk of fire, particularly in older buildings and neighborhoods. But there are many ways to ensure that seniors can safely evacuate the building in the event of a fire. These include:
- Keeping doors and exits unblocked
- Maintaining a staff to resident ratio that is under regulation
- Practicing in a monthly fire drill, paying particular attention to how complex patients will be moved
- Using beds and wheelchairs that fit easily through doorways and exits
Some of these may seem self-explanatory, but for nursing homes in older buildings, it is possible that administrators might “get by” without updating or renovating their narrow doorways. If your loved one lives in one of these older nursing homes, it becomes even more important for you to be vigilant. Speak with the administrator and ask if they have renovated to meet current regulations. When was their last electrical inspection? What is their evacuation plan? They should be able to produce a written plan of action in the case of fire.
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Your loved one deserves to live in a community that is nurturing and comfortable–and safe from the risk of fire. But in an imperfect world, the best we can hope for is that the place you choose has people who care and a plan in place in the event of a fire or other disaster.