Thursday, November 23, 2017

Communities come together during hardships

My sister works in an assisted living facility and occasionally she talks about the monthly fire drills. The staff follows procedures and during an emergency it seems like they would have to move fast to safely evacuate all of the residents because some cannot walk on their own or depend on a wheelchair. It would be a difficult task, one that they hope they never have to find the hard way.

The Barclay Friends Senior Living Community residents and staff in West Chester experienced that last Thursday during what the media called an inferno after the fire rapidly ripped through the building and destroyed a majority of the building. Some of the exterior walls are standing and the roof is burnt off. As I watched the breaking news footage on TV, I hoped that everyone had gotten out because by that point the conditions were not survivable.

Photo by Daily Local News photographer Pete Bannan - A fire destroyed the Barclay Friends Senior Living Community on Thursday, Nov. 16. 

In developing stories, details are reported as they unfold and sometimes information changes. Initially they knew that there were more than 100 residents and staff members collectively inside the building when the fire broke out at about 10:45 p.m. last Thursday. They later announced that more than 140 residents and staff made it out and that four people who are unaccounted for are believed to be dead.

West Chester Police Chief Scott Bohn said it’s a “small miracle that we only have four people unaccounted for” while 133 residents and 15 staff were safely evacuated during the five-alarm blaze. The ATF later found the four victims in the rumble.

Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan said he would have expected more grim news of up to 50 residents who perished but most were saved “mainly because of actions of the first responders” who had “minutes to get those residents to safety.”

People often credit firefighters with running toward danger as everyone else runs away. It’s something that the media members have in common with first-responders, but to serve a different purpose. When I saw a photograph of the media circus, taken by one of my firefighting friends, it reminded me of why I do both. As a journalist covering breaking news I feel like a bystander at times even though I go to emergency scenes in Chester County with a job to do, but reporting on the news led me to join the fire service back home to help others.

Photo via Twitter - Members of the media gather outside of the Barclay Friends Senior Living Community after a fire broke out on Thursday, Nov. 16.
 Usually bystanders watch the events as they unfold. I’m proud of the nearby neighbors who came outside their warm homes to assist the first-responders and staff to evacuate the senior citizens and move them to a safe distance away from their residence that suddenly was engulfed with fire. They gave blankets keep to the senior citizens  warm, who they couldn’t do anything but watch all of their personal belongings perish as they waited for a place to go.

As a West Chester University alumna, I was proud to hear the news reports that a university gym opened as an overnight shelter for many of the residents. While officials declined to inform the media if there were any fatalities, the media reported of families becoming reunited after fearing that they lost their loved one.

While many times people tell us that we only report bad news, they overlook the good that comes from tragedy. One of the three West Chester fire companies opened its bay doors for donations to assist the displaced residents. Barclay staff members helped the firefighters sort through the donations and created a bag for each resident. Daily Times Editor Phil Heron said it best, “In the worst of circumstances, a community shows its best.”
Photo by Daily Local News photographer Pete Bannan - Community members donated items including walkers to assist the Barclay Friends Senior Living Community residents who lost their belongings in a fire on Thursday, Nov. 16. 

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