Thursday, May 19, 2011

Apartment Fire

I've written many times about the importance of having an emergency information sheet in case of a medical emergency however what happens in case of a fire? Well, today, we found out.

As you know, I am busy preparing for the move to our new apartment. I've been selling furniture, editing some things as well as finding a long term care facility (nursing home) for my mother. Life is extremely busy. I had asked Dad to stop by before work today to help me move a piece of furniture into the garage since I had someone coming to see it today. This was 5:20 a.m. After he left, I took a shower and proceeded to do hair and makeup and was done by 6:15 a.m. My dining room was emptied out and I had all the contents of the armoire ready to be boxed up for moving.

Around 7:15 a.m. or so the fire alarm had gone off. Typically, it's a false alarm. I checked the hallways to see if there was smoke and checked outside but didn't see anything. Dear Son was in bed getting his breakfast via the feeding tube. When the alarm didn't go off, I began to get a little nervous and brought in the wheelchair from the garage. By then, I heard a second set of sirens coming our way so I started to get worried there was a real fire. As I was securing Dear Son with the hoyer lift and into the wheelchair, I heard the firemen knocking on the apartment doors. Then I knew it was probably real. I should probably say too, that getting Dear Son out of bed with the hoyer lift and into the wheelchair takes a little time. It can be very stressful in an emergency since it's not a quick process.

Dear Son was still in his pajamas however I grabbed a blanket to put over him. When I opened the apartment door, the fireman was next door and I asked him which direction I needed to exit. I had to exit left instead of right. I got outside with Dear Son and it wasn't long until the smoke began pouring out of the end unit, next to mine. They broke the windows to get in and hooked up the hose to the fire hydrant. There were a lot of emergency personnel around so I notified the firemen that two little children (under the age of 5-I believe one is 18 months or so and the other is 4) live there and that the father may be sleeping since I thought he worked nights. A short time later someone told me that the children had been taken out however I later learned that was erroneous. About ten minutes later, they had rescued the kids and they were taken to the hospital. Then it got weird. While everyone had evacuated from the building, one of the fireman came over and asked me quietly if the parents were home since they couldn't locate them. I said that I thought the father worked nights and the mother worked days. Unable to locate them, they came back again and asked if I knew where they worked. I did not but suggested they speak with the maintenance man who had access to the corporate office.

As we waited outside, I couldn't help but think about my possessions. I had just moved all of the furniture I wanted to sell to my garage so what was left in my apartment were things I wanted to keep. I was worried those might be destroyed. Actually, I thought to myself that if I did all of that work of moving furniture the night before and then a few hours later, it was destroyed, I'd be peeved, lol.

To make a long story short, no one died. They had to use a ladder to go up to the second floor to help with the fire. Because our apartment complex is fully sprinklered, the fire was contained to just that unit. I have eight sprinklers in my apartment alone. While I was out there, the Fire Prevention Bureau Chief was there and was talking to me. (Not sure why I was so popular out there since the whole apartment complex was there but the firemen kept singling me out.) We talked a bit about the fire and then I asked him some questions about the procedure for notifying 911 that Dear Son was disabled in case of a fire. Typically, there is a form you can fill out online to register with them. This form notifies them that someone needs assistance to get out. Since he was there, I figured I'd ask since it was on my to do list. Currently, I live on the first floor so I wasn't too worried because I have a few exits and I could evaculate Dear Son by carrying him or lifting him out the window if I had to. (Yes, I am a strong Mama:) He told me to contact the EMS Coordinator. You can call them or go online and once you tell them that you have a person who will need assistance, if you ever call 911 or if there is a fire in the complex, a flag will come up in the system as soon as the alarm goes off and they know who needs to be rescued. After the fire was out and everything was said and done, he stopped by my apartment to give me the phone number and website. Since our new studio apartment will be on a higher floor, I needed to make certain that they have Dear Son's information in the system in case we need to be rescued.

Anyway, we were unable to go back into our apartment for over two hours. Dear Son had not had his morning seizure medicines and I was getting worried. They came and asked me if I needed any meds for him and offered to go in and get it for me but stated I was not allowed to enter the building. Luckily, I keep an emergency backpack on Dear Son's wheelchair all the time. Included in the backpack is a day's worth of medicine. I didn't need to go in since I had everything I needed. I left to go over to the clubhouse to give it to him however they gave us approval to return at that time. I was thankful that I had his emergency backpack. In addition, because I had packed his wheelchair for school on Friday (he attends three mornings a week-Tuesday, Wednesday and Fridays), I had extra shirts and pants in the backpack to put on since it was cold outside. While I did have a blanket on him, I put the clothes on his as well. I do keep an extra set of clothes in the emergency backpack too, but it was all a good reminder that we need to be prepared for a fire. While I have kept an emergency backpack for years for Dear Son, I never imagined using it for a fire.

In addition, I went to tour a nursing home for my mother yesterday. has a nursing home finder and includes the ratings for fire safety. This particular nursing home wasn't fully sprinklered and I had inquired about that on my tour yesterday. The Social Worker had informed me that only the public corridors had sprinklers and the rooms did not. I asked what would happen in the case of a fire. She said they would close the patient's door to the rooms. The rooms have fire doors so they are good for three hours. If a fire were to occur and required evacuation, they would evacuate to the next building laterally (meaning they would go from the second floor of the burning building to the second floor of the attached non burning building). Since the Fire Prevention Bureau Chief was talking to me, I asked him about this to find out if her answers were good in terms of fire safety and if I asked the right question(s).

He stated that a fire door is good for three hours provided there isn't a fire, meaning it's good for heat and smoke for three hours but if there were a real fire, the door wouldn't last the full three hours. In case of a fire, it's doubtful the fire would spread from room to room because fire spreads from the first floor up, not laterally. He said the question to ask is if there is a fire wall between the buildings. If there are two buildings and each building has a separate address, then there is a definite fire wall between them; if not, you need to ask. I always worry about fires and evacuating disabled people in the case of a fire. While I know I could evacuate Dear Son, I had many sleepless nights when my Mom first went into a nursing home wondering who would evacuate her in the case of a fire when you have so many patients in wheelchairs. It's really something to think about. I made a decision for Dear Son a long time ago that I would never, ever leave his side in a fire. Either we get out together or we perish together. There is no other option.

The children in the next apartment were taken to the hospital. I don't know their status. The apartment was boarded up and the tenants can not return until the building has been properly cleaned by a fire clean up crew (meaning a firm that specializes in cleaning every item in your home after a fire). They were not able to remove any items from the apartment at all. The father mumbled that he wasn't certain if he had renter's insurance however I am certain that is unlikely. You are required to provide proof of renter's insurance here any time you sign your lease. I am sure he forgot with the stress of the morning. The people have to check with the landlord to see if they have a place for them to stay or to see if they need to go to a hotel.

In the end, we all need to be prepared for every emergency. For children like Dear Son, we need to make sure we are prepared by having their information on file with the fire department and by having an emergency bag. For nursing homes, you need to look online to see what the reports show and ask appropriate questions.

When I returned to my apartment, I noticed the water had leaked into my closet so everything had to be removed. They came and vacuumed up the water and sprayed a chemical on the carpet to remove the smoky smell. I could still smell some smoke residue all day in the bedroom and closet.

I guess sometimes, when it rains, it pours. I will pray for my neighbors tonight. I am certain they have a lot to be concerned with at this time. The Fire Prevention Bureau Chief stated that had our apartment complex not been fully sprinklered, that this fire would have displaced quite a few families. I am thankful today for our sprinklers. Had I not had an apartment complex with them, it may not have been a good ending.

Update: I read today that the cause of the fire was sparked by candles and incense in a hallway closet that was part of a religious shrine. The open flame was too close to combustable material and investigators determined the cause of the fire was "accidental". The two children were rescued from a bedroom and taken to the hospital and were treated for smoke inhalation and released.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Moving On...

Photo is of the entrance to the Riverwalk.

In the past few weeks, things have been quite busy. My Mom remains in a rehabilitation facility and has been there for over two months now. Unfortunately, via some medical missteps, it looks like she will not return to independent living. I've been visiting her while Dear Son is at school, and that has taken up a lot of my spare time.

In addition, my apartment lease was coming up for renewal at the end of July. New owners purchased the property last year and are converting it to more of a resort community and therefore have raised the rents significantly. My new rent increased $300 if I took a 12 month lease and would increase $500/month for a month to month lease. Since I couldn't afford a rent increase, I began looking for a new apartment.

My apartment search was unsuccessful, in a way. Due to Dear Son's medical needs, I require a washer/dryer in the unit versus doing laundry outside of the apartment. In our area, only luxury apartments offer this amenity; the rest of the apartments have a general laundry area. In addition, I needed wide, three foot doorways to get him in/out of the apartment, plus plenty of room to get him in/out of the bathroom in a wheelchair. We also loved the riverwalk trail that you see in all of these photos. We walk them some eight months out of the year. I looked at other places but they either didn't meet our needs or were very "apartment" looking, for lack of a better term.

Photo is of the Riverwalk where the new owners cut down the trees. It always makes me sad when I see this. I doubt they consulted an arborist. They wanted to clear the trees to give tenants the view of the river and of the golf course. Unfortunately, there was a lot of wildlife in there.

During this time, I also checked out the Studio Apartment at my current property. It looked too small online to meet our needs but on a whim, I decided to check it out since the rent was close to what I was paying now. It turns out that while it was small, it was wheelchair accessible and met all of our needs. I liked the crown molding and I wouldn't have to give up our pretty riverwalk. I decided I'd rather have an apartment that was smaller and nicer than a larger apartment that wasn't as pretty or more "apartment looking". When I looked at other places, I could find some that were very pretty on the inside but didn't have a walking trail for us. Since we spend a lot of time walking, this was high on my priority list. Our current place had both and it was affordable. On the down side, it is 200 square feet less! I am moving from 850 square feet to 650 square feet with a disabled child in a wheelchair (translated it means he has lots of medical equipment/stuff, lol). On the plus side, with the addition of a small storage unit on the property, my new rent will be $30 more. In the past, they had given me a garage at no charge, to help with Dear Son however I will no longer have a garage.

While that sounds good, I needed to act fast to secure the new apartment. I had a choice of June 1st or June 15th and I chose June 1st since it would be a lot harder moving Dear Son once he is out of school. That means, I need to be ready to move in three weeks!

The new smaller apartment will be a challenge, in terms of space. While I love small space living, this borders a little too small for my taste however I know I can make it work and have it still look great. In these next few weeks, I need to pack, paint and clean my current apartment, plus sell some furniture. I also need to edit a lot of things because there isn't room in the new space for them. That's a lot to do! While I am organized, I needed to draw up a space plan on where everything will reside in the new space. That means, I need to change things around and re-organize items to fit the new space. I am doing all of that before I move.

In addition to doing all of that, plus visiting my Mom and taking care of Dear Son, I need to assist with the transfer of my Mom to a skilled nursing home. We did a Care Meeting this week and she will be discharged in less than two weeks. I found a wonderful organization that will help you navigate the system and help you find facilities called, "A Place for Mom". This website will match you up with an Elder Care Advisor to help facilitate the transition. They are paid by the facilities so there is no cost to you. The advantage is that since they help so many families, they also have a good idea of which facilities people like and don't like. If there are too many complaints regarding a facility, they will not refer you.

Currently, I am working on discharge planning and securing 24/7 care for her so she can return to her home for two weeks after discharge and then transition to a nursing home. That is a lot of change for her so I am working hard to be as understanding and compassionate as I can be to help her with this transition.

All of this has left little time for blogging, however I hope to start blogging regularly now.

Photo is of Dear Son after one of our walking sessions.

Now, onto the new space. Here is the floor plan of our new studio apartment.

Here is a photo of the "sleeping room".

Here is a photo of the other side of the room, which will be where Dear Son's bedroom will be. Due to Dear Son's disabilities, it helps me when I can see him and hear him since he can't move on his own. I know that is probably difficult to understand if you've never taken care of someone who requires round the clock care, but is understandable if you've been in my shoes.

A view of our tiny closet. This is a clothing closet AND it's our linen closet. Imagine that. I guess I will be purging some of my skinny clothes, lol. Only room to keep one size of clothing in there. I don't think I've ever met a woman with only one size in her closet. Have you?

I plan on having the living area in the center of the space. Here is a picture to give you an idea. I'll have the sofa at the end of my bed similar to this photo. In this photo however, the sofa is a bit too wide for the bed. It's pretty nonetheless.

A view of the kitchen with some ugly staging. Really ugly. On the plus side, I'll be taking pictures of my pretty kitchen tonight so hopefully I'll be sharing them with you in a day or so. I'll be painting this kitchen a new color too, changing the hardware, etc. In essence, making it look pretty.

That's all for now. Soon I'll be known as the Queen of Small Space Living. I have a lot of ideas on how to transform the space as well as utilize every nook and cranny. I'll be writing about those too.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Happy Mother's Day!

Here is wishing all of the mothers a very happy mother's day! Dear Son made this card and these flowers at school for me.

On Wednesday, he came home from school and there was a note from the teacher that Dear Son had made "something special" for "someone special" and that he picked the colors for it. Typically, the way he would choose the colors is that they would present him with two different colors and he would have to select the color he wanted by gazing at it with his eyes or moving his head in the direction of the color. I told him that whoever would get that would be very lucky because he was very good at picking colors, lol. He smiled and was just beaming. I went on and on about what a good color picker he was and how lucky they would be. He loved it all. That my friends, seeing the joy in his face and eyes, was my mother's day gift. As a mother, all I have ever wanted was to see my son happy.

On Friday, he got off the bus, carrying the flowers in his hands. Actually, they were propped in his hands since he can't hold on to them and he was so proud. As he got off the bus, a gust of wind came up and blew them away but I managed to get them.

When we got inside, I oohed and awwed over them and he just beamed. Don't you love it when they do that?

Today, we'll take a walk outside and enjoy the beautiful weather together!

You have to admit, these tissue flowers are really pretty. I think you'll agree he's a great "color picker", lol.

Have a wonderful mother's day!
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