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Disaster averted

South Boston NewsSouth Boston News
The fire damage in room 315, where the blaze originated as a result of smoking materials discarded in a closet. (Photo by Halifax Regional Health System). / January 27, 2014
An early morning fire Saturday at The Woodview nursing home forced the evacuation of dozens of elderly residents to another part of the building, where they were kept safe from smoke that billowed out into the hallway and into rooms of unit 3, also known as the Butterfly Path.

The emergency began when Room 315 caught fire, the apparent result of discarded smoking materials flaring up in the closet. The flames gutted the room before they were extinguished by the building’s sprinkler system. Both occupants of the room were rushed to safety by Woodview night staff on duty.

No one was injured in the blaze, which was reported to the county 911 center at 2:47 a.m. Woodview personnel were the first to execute the evacuation of unit 3, with fire and emergency personnel rushing to the scene to join the effort.

“The staff at The Woodview responded very promptly and appropriately when they realized there was smoke and took all precautions to make sure the residents were moved to safety immediately,” said Olivia Epps, communications manager for Halifax Regional Health System, which operates The Woodview.

According to witnesses, heavy black smoke quickly filled unit 3, but the furious rush to get residents to safety was well-organized in keeping with the nursing home’s standing emergency protocols.

The evacuation effort focused on 41 persons living in the section of unit 3 where the smoke was heaviest. Another 19 residents on the hallway were separated from the fumes by automatic fire doors that slammed shut when the alarm went off. They were deemed safe for the moment and did not have to be not moved immediately, said South Boston Fire Chief Steve Phillips.

Initially, residents were brought to the front part of the building. Later Saturday morning, all 60 residents of the Butterfly Path were taken to the cafeteria where, according to Woodview director Connie Zamora, “they seem to be doing just fine.”

No one had to be taken to the hospital during the emergency, and evacuated residents never had to leave the confines of The Woodview building. Zamora said nursing home’s medical director and attending physician was on hand in the aftermath of the crisis, and reported that all the residents were doing well.

Residents were returned to their rooms by Saturday evening, with the exception of the two men living in room 315. The damage to their room was too serious to be repaired Saturday. They have been moved, at least temporarily, to other beds within the nursing home.

Phillips said the fire was “definitely an accident.” He described the materials inside the closet that set off the fire as “improperly discarded smoking materials,” but said the damage was too heavy to tell exactly what those materials may have been,

Possibilities include items such as cigarettes, lighters or matches, he said.

“The inside of the closet was burnt pretty extensively,” he said.

Whatever materials caused the fire, they shouldn’t have been there, said Epps. The Woodview is a no-smoking facility.

“Based on what fire investigators are telling us, it could [have been] caused by concealed smoking materials which are against Woodview policy,” Epps said.

Zamora declined to say if any action would be taken against the person who violated the smoking ban.

Phillips, echoing Epps, said the first concern among emergency personnel when they arrived at the scene was the safety of The Woodview’s residents, especially those in close proximity to the smoke.

“Our main focus when we got here was getting those people out of there at unit 3 … and into an area of the building on the other side of the fire doors.”

He praised the response of The Woodview staff, and HRHS officials in turn said they were greatly thankful for the work of emergency personnel in dealing with the fire.

“We totally appreciate so much the support of our community folks, the fire, the rescue, the police [responders] … They were very professional and very prompt and I can’t say enough good things about them,” said Zamora.

In the aftermath of the blaze, The Woodview moved quickly to bring in extra cleaning staff and an outside cleaning firm to get to work on ridding the building off its smoky smell. Construction crews also arrived to clean out and repair the two rooms most damaged by the fire — in addition to room 315, the room next door sustained extensive smoke damage. By Saturday morning work was underway to repaint the smoked-up room and replace the ceiling tiles and other fixtures that may have absorbed the odor. The two residents of the room were able to return by Saturday evening.

The fire-ravaged room will take more time to repair, said Zamora.

Phillips said damages to The Woodview are likely to exceed $100,000, with much of that due to the cost of cleaning the building to rid it of the smoking smell.

“There wasn’t that much damage in the fire room, but with them having to go through all those rooms and hallways, sanitizing everything to get the rooms safe for patients, I’m sure it was a considerable cost,” he said.

All the families of residents had been contacted by 6:30 a.m. to let them know what had happened and that all of the residents were safe, said Epps.

One family member of a Woodview resident said she appreciated the way the nursing home handled the emergency. Melissa Peacock, whose father lives on the wing where the fire started, said she received a call early Saturday morning from a staffer who “immediately said my father was fine, but they were calling all the families to let them know there had been a small fire, but that everything was also under control.” Said Peacock: “I’m sure I’m not alone in that any time the phone rings from The Woodview — not that it is often — my heart always skips a beat, so I really appreciate the way the call was made.

Peacock added that her father “didn’t seem to have been bothered at all” by the early morning event, which happened when most residents were asleep.

“So grateful they have those systems in place and that they do the drills,” she said.

Responding to the fire were units from South Boston, Halifax and Cluster Springs, aided by county emergency responders and local police.

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