Clearfield senior facility a total loss after blaze

For the CDTJune 27, 2013 

— A fire that displaced dozens of seniors is being called a total loss, with damages estimated at between $3 million and $5 million.

Colonial Courtyard in Clearfield, a senior living community, was destroyed by fire Tuesday in the middle of a lightning storm, but reports of weather being the cause still are not confirmed.

Lawrence Township Fire Chief Elliott Neeper said employees reported hearing a loud boom at about 7 p.m., which knocked out some building systems. While they were busy handling that, others in the area noticed flames on the structure. The initial 911 call was made by third-party reporters, and students at an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers class nearby came to notify the staff and help begin evacuation efforts.

No one involved in the efforts has anything but praise for how the emergency was handled. The 61 residents and seven staff members made it out with no injuries.

“Life safety is the No. 1 priority. Property comes second,” said Neeper.

Clearfield County Emergency Services Director Joe Bigar commended the firefighters, including more than 20 companies from at least three counties, for quick response, efficient work and preservation of life.

On Wednesday, the scene was about recovery and explanation. State police fire marshal Bob Southern was joined at the charred, roofless remains of the facility by another fire marshal and an inspector with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Neeper said the ATF involvement is in a support role because of its resources and the scope of the loss.

Southern said the cause has not been determined but that “at this time, it does not look at all suspicious.”

The Colonial Courtyard staff was organizing again, boxing up medical records and binders in plastic tubs in the parking lot. Neeper credited that organization with being instrumental in saving lives.

“We had just gotten a letter from them,” he said, updating the fire company on critical issues regarding the residents, like those who were immobile and would need additional help in the event of an emergency. “It really helped out.”

Clearfield Hospital’s Chief Nursing Officer Kathy Bedgar agreed.

“(They) were very prepared. They had a plan. They were very calm, very reassuring to the residents,” she said. “Now you know why you have fire drills.”

Residents were relocated Monday night to Clearfield Hospital and Mountain Laurel Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Both facilities said they could not release any information about the residents due to federal privacy regulations. Bedgar added that her staff was trying to minimize any additional disturbance to the senior citizens in the wake of their “traumatic experience.”

“It was a neighboring facility in crisis, and we were more than willing to help out anybody in need,” said Mountain Laurel’s Julie Fenton.

They weren’t the only ones who were impacted.

“In the 10 years that I have been in the fire department, I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Neeper.

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