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.


Earl said...

Being a long time reader, I knew that you were an organized person. This post just reaffirmed my belief.

DS is a lucky kid to have you. Earl

Gloria (The Little Red House with the White Porch) said...

Oh my goodness, I am sure you are saying: WHAT ELSE??! Well, they say things come in "threes" right? So, HOORAY, you are DONE. Your #1 is your Mom and all you have had to do for her lately regarding the nursing home and all that you have worried about her; #2 is having to look for another place to live; and #3 is this fire. Now there's nothing to do but to look up! Things are going to be going well for you from now on! And you are one very smart lady to ask all of those questions about the nursing home and a fire there and, more importantly, you are brilliant to have had the emergency backpack for your son with his medications and extra clothes. Take care, Dream Mom, and try to have a RELAXING, QUIET weekend. :)

Dream Mom said...

Oh, thank you both for your kind comments. It's all a bit much sometimes, even if you are organized. I will be glad when it is all over.

Gloria, I love your outlook. I sure hope everything is done because it's all a bit much for me.

Sarai said...

I am still stuck on the 2 kids under five in an apartment fire with no parents........

glad you and your son are OK.

Kristin Drohan said...

Oh wow!! Glad everyone is okay!

Anonymous said...

Scary. It's good you were prepared and everything turned out well under the circumstances.

But --What about Wiggles the cat????

Dream Mom said...

Thanks, everyone.

Sarai-I agree with you. Who does that?

Anon-Wiggles the cat is just fine:)

Sharon said...

Dream Mom,
I enjoy reading your blog and hearing about your strong advocacy for Dear Son. I hope you have been able to get your Mom secured and your move completed. I admire your organization and how it makes everything fall into place so carefully for Dear Son.

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