A fire at a Wellington seniors’ home Monday night displaced around 50 residents who are now lodged temporarily at the Mill River Resort.
Wellington Fire Department got the call to the Cooperative Chez Nous at 9:40 p.m.
“When we arrived on the scene our members were quick to realize there was some heavy smoke, and there was an urgent need to evacuate all the residents,” said firefighter Desmond Arsenault, who handles communications for the department.
In total, four departments battled the blaze for around three hours.
“We’re lucky it happened when it did. A lot of the residents were still up,” said Wellington Fire Department deputy chief Leon Perry.
Tyne Valley, New London and Miscouche fire departments also answered the call.
Arsenault said it didn’t take long to evacuate the residents.
Perry said that was the home’s evacuation plan “paying off”.
“Residents knew which doors to go out of. The staff were great, they did an excellent job to get everyone out,” said Perry.
Initially, residents were loaded into personal vehicles and RCMP cruisers for transport to the Wellington Legion.
Then school buses started to arrive to help take the residents to safety. Perry was moved by the number of bus drivers who came out in the middle of the night to help.
“We loaded up two, and just as we were looking for a third, I looked up and could see seven more waiting – the community support has been great,” said Perry.
Island EMS sent around six ambulances to the legion and every resident and all the staff were assessed for injury and smoke inhalation.
Only one person was taken to hospital with minor injuries.
Once everyone was safe from immediate danger it became clear they needed a place to stay the night. The seniors were then transported by school bus to nearby Mill River Resort.
“They were all, of course, cold, afraid and nervous,” said Arsenault. “It’s pretty traumatic for these people … They literally came out with the clothes on their back, some didn’t even have slippers on."
Tuesday morning, firefighters were able to retrieve some personal belongings like hearing aids, glasses, dentures and medications.
“I’m sure they won’t feel very comfortable without those items,” said Perry.
At Chez Nous, the central areas, including the kitchen and lobby, sustained the most damage as the fire broke out in the basement underneath these rooms, said Perry.
The rest of the home is affected by smoke damage.
Tuesday morning, the Fire Marshal’s Office was on the scene with security officers to secure the building.
“We’re at the ‘making sure the fire is still out’ stage,” said deputy fire marshal John
Chisholm as he cleared the site.
“I just want to assure all families that the residents are really well taken care of,” said Marcel Richard. “They’re in really nice accommodations, they’ve been fed nice hot meals.”
Many of the residents have mobility issues, so wherever they landed it needed to be accessible. Mill River Resort is meeting those needs. Staff members are working to keep the routines similar to those of the home.
He can’t say how long they’ll get to stay at the Mill River Resort, though, as the hotel is fully booked for the weekend.
Geoffrey Irving, president of the resort, said he and his staff were happy to welcome the residents from Chez Nous.
“Happy to help. Something like this has to be quite scary and from what we understood, there wasn’t a lot of options. We’re just happy we were here to help,” said Irving.
As for whether it’s a boon for business – he said he hasn’t even discussed payment yet, he’s just working to provide accommodations for as long as he can with bookings looming.
To help out, a construction crew renovating 12 of the resort’s rooms will work extra hours to get them done by Thursday evening, said Irving, which will accommodate half of the residents.
Going forward, he said it’s “not off the table” to reschedule some reservations to keep the Chez Nous residents together and in the same place while they wait out the disruption to their lives.
Until the fire marshal completes the investigation, Richard said he won’t know how long the residents will be away from home.
Chez Nous staff will be contacting families to update them about their loved one’s needs. In the meantime, he asks everyone to respect the privacy of the seniors.
Alison Jenkins, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Journal-Pioneer