It’s unfortunate when fire ravages a building occupied by seniors, that’s exactly what happened in Chester County, Pennsylvania on Thursday night. The flames sent 140 residents into the cold and local shelters. Around 20 residents were also sent to local hospitals after succumbing to serious injuries.
The fierce fire at the Barclay Friends community on the 700 block of North Franklin Street in West Chester led staff to evacuate residents on foot, in wheelchairs and even in beds, wrapped in blankets as they tried to save them from the dangerous five-alarm fire.
The residents were triaged on a neighborhood street before being transported to a number of different shelters on ambulances and school buses.
The Chester County officials confirmed during an early-morning news conference that they weren't ready yet to confirm the number injured or how serious the injuries were.
However, people at the scene described a frightening rescue from the inferno, which started before 11 p.m. Thursday. Firefighters were still dousing hot spots as smoke continued to rise after daybreak Friday, even though the inferno was declared under control at 1:22 a.m.
One of the employees who was inside the building revealed that staff rushed into residents' rooms after they realized the scope of the fire and decided to rush them into safety. Another employee also expressed her concern for the residents that she had known over three years working at the facility. "It's sad," said Nellie Mingey. "This is their home. A lot of them don't have anywhere to go."
The unhurt residents were happily reunited with friends and family at the nearby shelters, including at West Chester University. The American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania responded to help those displaced. It revealed that its Disaster Mental Health and Spiritual Care team met with each resident and their families.
"They're cold, they're scared, they're anxious, they wanted to get out of here, so we're glad to have gotten them out," registered nurse Noreen Cibley said.
The surrounding neighbors made their way to the scene to help comfort evacuees. One woman who lives within a mile of the scene said she called a first responder friend as soon as she saw the flames, then rushed over with donations from Wawa of coffee and water for the overwhelmed evacuees.
"Everyone seems OK, but they are tired," the neighbor said. "They look really, really exhausted. They've had a long night."
The facility is a senior living community that provides professional nursing staff 24 hours a day, meals and other services.