Neighbors help during massive senior living center fire

Firefighters continue to work the scene of a fire at the the Barclay Friends Senior Living Community in West Chester, Pa., Friday, Nov. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)Firefighters continue to work the scene of a fire at the the Barclay Friends Senior Living Community in West Chester, Pa., Friday, Nov. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

ANTHONY IZAGUIRRE, Associated Press

 

Dozens of neighbors rushed to the scene of a massive late-night fire that injured at least 20 people at a Pennsylvania senior living community, wrapping the elderly in blankets and carrying them to ambulances in makeshift gurneys.

Larry Kingsland, 62, said Friday he and scores of people who live around the Barclay Friends Senior Living Community ferried elderly residents to medics as firefighters rescued them from the blaze.

“Everyone saw how devastating the fire was and we all had the same reaction: that people needed help,” he said of the Thursday night inferno in West Chester, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) west of Philadelphia. “The whole neighborhood was helping.”

Firefighters were still dousing smoldering hot spots on what remains of the building late Friday morning. The fire was declared under control just before 1:30 a.m. An investigation into what caused the blaze is underway, a town fire chief said.

The fire quickly spread to multiple buildings, engulfing sections within minutes; flames could be seen shooting from the roofs and windows of the structures.

Many of the residents were pushed in wheelchairs or rolled on beds to safety, said Dina Ciccarone, another neighbor who helped move people away from the fire and into safety. In some cases, she said, people used blankets as makeshift gurneys to assist in the rescue effort.

“Most of them could not walk,” the 37-year-old Ciccarone said. “Some were lying on the ground, we were just bundling them up.”

News helicopter coverage showed dozens of residents on the lawn or along the street, wrapped in blankets as overnight temperatures dipped into the low 40s. Elderly residents were loaded onto school busses early Friday and taken to nearby hospitals, witnesses said.

Chester County emergency officials said at least 20 people were taken to area hospitals for treatment. The extent of their injuries was not immediately known.

Mike Lentz, a 60-year-old accountant who lives across the street from the facility, said neighbors also helped to comfort seniors as they were led away from the flames.

“I would try to wrap them in a blanket and kept telling them ‘you’re safe now,'” he said. “Some were crying. Some were disoriented and crying.”

A spokeswoman for Main Line Health, a not-for-profit health system, said one of its hospitals also was prepared to provide shelter to some additional residents of the senior living community. Some residents were taken to nearby West Chester University.

According to its website, Barclay Friends offers various levels of care including memory care, skilled nursing and post-acute rehab.

Early Friday morning, the local chapter of the American Red Cross said on Twitter that it had multiple teams on the scene and that it was working with county officials and facility staff to assist displaced residents.

 

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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