Dozens of neighbors rushed to the scene of a massive late-night fire that injured nearly 30 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.”
Town officials said some of the more than 130 residents were still unaccounted for Friday afternoon, and that there was the possibility someone could have died in the fire.
“We’re hoping for the best obviously here,” said Mayor Jordan Norley, who put the number taken to hospitals at 29.
Emergency management officials said there were still hot spots more than 12 hours after the fire was declared under control, and that much of the burned out complex was too unstable for investigators to enter.
The fire spread to multiple buildings, engulfing sections within minutes. A spokeswoman for the senior living center said about 132 residents were present when the blaze broke out. Emergency officials put the number of staff at about 20; they were all accounted for.
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 buses 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 most injuries was not immediately known, though a Paoli Hospital spokeswoman said seven patients were admitted with issues related to smoke inhalation.
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.”
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.