LETHBRIDGE – Fast action on the part of emergency crews and members at a local church, seems to have prevented a fire at a west side senior’s complex from becoming a tragedy.
The fire started around 3 p.m. at the Gardens at West Highlands retirement home, located on Highlands Blvd West.
While flames and smoke could be seen coming from the north-east corner of the complex, fire officials say it appears everyone made it out safely.
“We've done a complete primary and secondary search of the entire building, and we're pretty confident that we've completed that secondary search,” said Roy Pollmuller, deputy chief of strategic services. “We're working with the managers, with Red Cross, to account for all the residents. Of course, some residents left on their own accord before they were catalogued in the intake, but we don't have any reports of any missing residents at this time.”
He added that there were no injuries related to the fire itself, and that paramedics were able to assist some residents at the scene who were on permanent oxygen and needed help with their breathing.
As for the evacuation effort, the neighbouring Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints played a crucial role in helping get residents to safety.
Joe Paul had come to Lethbridge from Salt Lake City, Utah, to assist with safety training for a number of missionaries. After seeing flames erupt from the building, he took action.
"I've always been intrigued by helping people out, and so, to get those people out is worth putting my life at risk.”
– Joe Paul
“Myself and a couple of our other people run over and went into the building and started getting people out,” Paul told the media on scene. “The top floor on the [north-east] side was fairly engulfed in smoke, so we were going into residences and getting people out of bed, out of chairs, trying to get them down the stairs. I probably evacuated 50 people out of the different rooms.”
When asked why he went into the burning building, Paul – who noted that he’s volunteered with search and rescue for about 23-years – said it was the realization that it was a senior’s centre that got him to go in.
“There's a lot of people that can't move on their own, they can't mobilize themselves. And so, you know, I've always been intrigued by helping people out, and so, to get those people out is worth putting my life at risk,” explained Paul, adding that it was a good lesson for the young members of their church.
“You could be driving down the road and somebody's on the side of the road having an issue, you stop and you help. You know, something like this requires a lot of people to help out. I mean, that's what we do as missionaries, and as human beings, the nature really is to help people out.”
After being asked by Lethbridge Police officers if they could accommodate the residents, the church opened their doors, while also providing food and water to those in need.
Inside the church, Gardens resident, Carol Vold – who made it out safely with her cat, Storm – described the experience, saying she was thankful to those who helped.
“The smoke was terrible, and the fire just caught, and I mean, it went crazy. It went really quickly,” she explained, before adding with a chuckle. “I’m fine, and so are my friends… we’re alright, thank God.”
Gardens resident, Carol Vold
At this point, there’s no indication as to what started the fire, however, Pollmuller says there will be a full investigation. He stated that about one quarter of the building sustained fire, smoke and water damage, while there was heavy fire damage to at least three apartments.
He also discussed what will need to happen before any residents can go back in.
“Our operations are working with the other parts of the building, doing an environmental assessment on the air-quality, to see when we might be able to do a re-entry plan for some people that might need to get into apartments that weren't damaged, that are on the other side of this large complex… They need to go apartment to apartment, hallway to hallway, and do a full air quality assessment of this building before we let anybody else in.”
In the meantime, Pollmuller says the Red Cross is working with residents to assess their medical and care needs, and assist those who are not able to stay with family until they can return to their homes.
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