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Calmness, teamwork and a strong knowledge of what to do resulted in a successful evacuation of the Chez Nous Co-Operative on Monday night.
The long-term care facility in Wellington was on fire, and time was precious. The process of getting the residents evacuated and moved went as smoothly, said Chez Nous Co-Operative president Marcel Richard. He said because the facility holds regular fire drills, the residents knew where to go.
“That certainly proved to us it was working because they were where they were supposed to be,” said Richard. “You are working with people who have issues moving and things like that, so things are not moving as fast and, certainly not as fast, as you want it to move in a situation like that, but everything worked out.”
Staff had begun evacuating residents when firefighters arrived. Together, staff and firefighters worked to ensure the residents, including some with mobility issues, were safely evacuated.
The residents were placed in personal vehicles, RCMP cars and fire trucks to stay warm before the arrival of school busses.
“It was quite a relief to do a proper head count and know everybody was out, all 47 residents and the two staff who were working in the building,” said Wellington Fire Department captain and spokesperson Desmond Arsenault.
Arsenault was quick to praise the professionalism of all involved. He said the fire department trains for situations like this, and the staff knew its protocols.
“Their calmness and dedication to get them outplayed a huge role,” said Arsenault. “The quick response was very critical to ensure the safety of everyone.”
The residents were immediately transported to the Wellington Legion and then the Mill River Resort a short time later. Richard said the “biggest focus” was always the safety of the residents.
Island EMS checked all the residents for smoke inhalation and any other possible problems.
“All in all, it was quite a scene to see all these residents with their family members, staff and EMS,” said Arsenault. “The whole time we were there, it was peace and quiet.
“Nobody was yelling, crying or freaking out or being upset or complaining it took too long.”
Fire crews focused on the fire while other firefighters were assisting the residents at the Legion.
"It was a great comfort to see a lot of the staff at Chez Nous who was not on duty that evening showed up at the Legion and were getting the seniors drinks, food, and once all the residents were safely out of the building, the focus turned to retrieving medications, equipment and charts from the building. It was at this time Chez Nous officials approached one of the firemen.
“They were awesome and unbelievable, too,” said Richard. “He said, ‘Leave it with me’.
“They asked, ‘Where is it when we get into the building, where do we go, left, right, wherever’?
“We told them where to go, and two or three firemen went into the building ... and the staff was able to get all the meds and take them with then when they left to go to Mill River.”
"When I say it was a serious call, a few minutes more, and it could have been a totally different outcome. It came really close. Even now, when I think back, how much of a different outcome this could have been if they had not practised, or had a few things gone differently. It’s heart-warming to know we had a very successful rescue.”
- Desmond Arsenault
Arsenault credited outstanding communication between staff and the firefighters going after the supplies.
“They let us know which room it was in, and we were able to tell our crew how to get to that specific room and where to get it,” said Arsenault.
Although Arsenault said this wasn't the largest fire his department has fought, it was one of the more emotional calls they have attended “considering the number of lives involved".
Arsenault noted firefighters knew a lot of the residents personally.
"When I say it was a serious call, a few minutes more, and it could have been a totally different outcome,” said Arsenault. “It came really close.
“Even now, when I think back, how much of a different outcome this could have been if they had not practised, or had a few things gone differently. It’s heart-warming to know we had a very successful rescue.”