West Chester, Pennsylvania made national headlines on Thursday, Nov. 16 in response to a fire at West Chester’s Barclay Friends Senior Community. The five-alarm fire was quickly dealt with by firefighters and officials who worked throughout the night to aid the 160 combined staff and residents. ABC6 says that “of the 27 people who were known to be injured, 17 remained in the hospital by late Friday afternoon.” The cause of the fire is still unknown.

West Chester student Alexa Brennan lives a block away from the senior community. When asked about her experience she said, “I heard multiple fire trucks driving by my apartment around 11 p.m. Maybe an hour or so after that I heard helicopters hovering over a nearby building so I knew something was going on.”

She continued describing her sister’s experience explaining, “My sister also lives very close and she could see the fire from her house. She actually sent me a picture, I couldn’t believe it. She told me that she drove by and saw all of the residents in the street, some in wheelchairs. Neighbors came out with blankets since it was in the low 40s. It’s really devastating and I know that the community wants to help in any way possible.”

Student and Distribution Manager at The Quad Aaron Gallant also shared Brennan’s confusion and concern that night. “I live directly in between Chester County Hospital and Barclay Friends,” said Gallant, “so we heard ambulances going up and down our street and helicopters going overhead for a while, which is not unusual living near the hospital, but in hindsight there were a lot more than usual.”

Gallant continued, “Later, as I was leaving to go out for a short walk, I was hit with a really strong smell of wood smoke and a slight haziness in the hallway. It was as strong as being next to a bonfire, but the Barclay is half a mile away. When I got outside there was a constant stream of ambulances shuttling residents to the hospital and out of the cold.”

As stated, the night of the fire the temperature outside was in the low 40s. Efforts were made to keep residents warm by neighbors and first responders. Displaced seniors were transported via buses to several locations to bring them out of the cold. One such location was West Chester University’s Ehringer Gym. Executive Director of West Chester University’s Office of Communications, Nancy Gainer, details the school’s role in the event.

“Our Interim Director of Public Safety, Jon Brill, is the emergency coordinator for the university as well as for the borough. So he was on the scene of the fire at about 10:50 p.m. [Thursday] night and he was working with emergency responders throughout the borough and throughout the area,” said Gainer. “The university is part of a collaborative emergency response network. As a part of that the decision was made to move approximately 40 seniors to Ehringer Gym. We also had a shuttle bus that was able to be re-routed so that it could help the seniors be transported to the university.”

Another bus company, contracted with WCU, arranged for a second bus to provide transportation. Two additional buses, not affiliated with the university, also shuttled seniors to WCU. Then, Gainer said, “As part of that effort, the Red Cross came in and efforts were being done to help coordinate the transportation of seniors to area healthcare facilities where their needs could be met.” Around 9 a.m. “all seniors were moved to the area facilities.”

Gainer said, “Kudos go to our Interim Director of Public Safety, Jon Brill, who coordinated these efforts with university public safety and the borough emergency operations team members throughout the township, because this was a well organized effort to help our neighbors. It’s important that the university is a resource for our community, and Jon stepped in, did what he had to do because he’s trained to do it, and it really was an effort to be able to get everyone where they needed to be quickly.”

In an email sent out to the WCU community, President Christopher Fiorentino said, “This was truly an outstanding job performed by WCU Public Safety. I know that you join me in extending our many thanks to this exceptional team of officers. All of us are extremely appreciative and quite proud of their collective efforts.”

Gainer concluded by saying: “During this season of thanks and giving this was really an example of how neighbors pull together.”

Halle Nelson is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies with minors in deaf studies and English literature. She can be reached at HN824858@wcupa.edu and on Twitter @Halle_N_Nelson.

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