Fire Safety Training Saved Lives, Prevented Injuries during June Tragedy
Candy Shomo recalled a picture-perfect afternoon, complete with blue skies, birds chirping and sunshine.
As executive director of Colonial Courtyard at Clearfield, Shomo remembered the routine, perhaps even mundane activities and chores taken on by the residents and staff at the senior living community on June 25.
“It was a beautiful day — sunny, nice, a regular summer day,” said Shomo of the hours before a fire engulfed Colonial Courtyard at Clearfield, displacing 60 residents and a dedicated staff of their caretakers. “The storm didn’t come in until 6 o’clock at night.
“It was such a normal day. Everybody was going about their business as usual. We had a very good visit with my director. We had a nice lunch. We all went home for the day.”
Shomo didn’t know it then, but her day wasn’t over.
A summer storm rolled into Clearfield as evening approached. Wind and lightning made the weather even more harrowing. Lightning is believed to have sparked a fire that quickly spread through Colonial Courtyard at Clearfield. Just as quickly, the staff and residents utilized the fire drill training Shomo had emphasized in her year as executive director.
All of the residents and staff escaped the building uninjured. What might have been an even greater tragedy was averted because those involved knew what needed to be done.
“This year at Thanksgiving, we are more thankful for our lives and our families,” said Sandy English, Colonial Courtyard at Clearfield Director of Sales and Marketing. “These are the important things, more so than the material things.
“Our residents are ready to get back to us. They don’t talk too much about the fire. We don’t bring up a harmful memory. They’re thankful to have their lives.”
Demolition of the Colonial Courtyard at Clearfield began last month and will continue once some structural tests are concluded. Plans to open an office in Clearfield to inform people of the demolition and rebuilding project is expected to open soon.
“Everyone will be so excited once the demolition is complete and the construction begins,” Shomo said. “A lot of people keep calling and asking when the building will be rebuilt. We were a family. We will be a family again. The residents knew how much we cared about them. Our staff wants to come back even though some of them had to take other jobs in the months since the fire.
“Through it all, we realize we have so much to be thankful for this year.”
Residents and their families certainly are thankful for Shomo’s diligence conducting fire drills and emphasizing the importance of a quick and orderly exit from the building.
Prior to taking over as executive director a year ago, Shomo had roles as a wellness coordinator and director of nursing at Colonial Courtyard at Clearfield. She knew the significance of an efficient fire plan.
“The staff and the residents have been trained well,” Shomo said. “The residents need to know what to do. If someone hadn’t worked with them they wouldn’t have known what to do. Practice makes perfect. They practiced with a purpose. They knew it meant saving lives if it ever came to it, which it eventually did.”
More importantly, the residents are using their experience to tell others about the importance of a fire drill. Approximately 20 Colonial Courtyard at Clearfield residents relocated to Colonial Courtyard at Tyrone, which also is owned by Wexford-based IntegraCare. Some moved to Colonial Courtyard at Bedford.
“The residents learned how important fire drills and the preparation is, and now they’re in other communities and they tell other residents how important it is,” Shomo said. “They tell them how they must take the training more seriously.”
No one took the responsibility more seriously than Shomo.
IntegraCare Chief Operating Officer Loriann Putzier praised Shomo’s persistence in training as well as the staff and residents’ ability to execute that training.
“Our executive director required the residents and staff to practice religiously,” Putzier said. “She didn’t permit the residents to bow out. She quizzed the staff about duties during the fire drills. People might have thought she was being mean. Ultimately, her behavior was the key.”
“Actually, she was not at the community when the fire hit, and by the time she got there, the staff had the residents out of the building as well as the important records and communication books. Everyone knew what they were supposed to do because of their training. It saved lives and allowed us to move forward with needed information.”
Shomo conceded there were a few challenges during the training, but those were overcome.
“Over the course of months we always went over the fire drills,” Shomo said. “The residents would give us a hard time at first. They didn’t want to exit the building or they’d take their good old time. We had residents who were stubborn and didn’t understand the importance at first. After a while, they figured, ‘We better start doing this or we’re going to have to keep repeating the drill.’
“They understood they had to exit the building for their safety,” she added. “They knew where to go and what to do. The staff knew how important the training was because I always was talking to them about it.”
The Colonial Courtyard at Clearfield building was destroyed. But no lives were lost. The senior living community eventually will be rebuilt – reuniting a “family.”
For that, Colonial Courtyard at Clearfield staff and residents are thankful this holiday season.
For more information, contact Candy Shomo, Colonial Courtyard at Clearfield Executive Director, at 814.389.7596 or [email protected]; or Sandy English, Colonial Courtyard at Clearfield Director of Sales and Marketing, at 814.496.9648 or [email protected].