Co-operation on fire avoids catastrophe

Bonnie Belec
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Emergency responders’ efforts successful at Maplewood Apartment building

It’s understandable if Clarice Le­Grow and her team of 13 Red Cross volunteers were tired Thursday morning.

Clarice LeGrow, the Red Cross’s associate for disaster management, says they are ready with emergency supplies to help when disaster strikes.

Having spent the night with more than 100 residents displaced from their homes because of a fire in their apartment building Wednesday, they were back on deck ready to provide more assistance if needed.

“We certainly have a great team,” said LeGrow, the Red Cross’s associate for disaster management.

And a disaster it was. More than 170 people who live at Maplewood Place apartments on Shaw Street in St. John’s were evacuated from their homes and separated from their belongings after a fire on the third floor late Wednesday afternoon.

The St. John’s Regional Fire Department responded to a call around 4 p.m. where an apartment was engulfed in flames. The complex is home to mostly senior citizens.

St. John’s Regional Fire Department Supt. Don Byrne said there were five residents taken to hospital, two of whom suffered from severe smoke inhalation.

He told The Telegram Thursday afternoon they are no longer listed as critical, but remain in hospital.

“Two were major, two were minor and one was hospitalized with a medical problem, but they’re all doing fine,” Byrne said.

At one point on the scene, there were more than 25 firefighters, paramedics, RNC officers and city staff, plus 179 tenants, all of which created a busy work area for firefighters.

“First, when we got there it was sort of chaotic with all the people there. It made it hard for us to get in. Two firefighters went in without handlines and were able to rescue two tenants from the apartment that was on fire, but it all came together and was a real interagency success story. I like to describe it as catastrophe averted,” he said.

Byrne also credited the impressive organizational skills of the building’s superintendent, who stayed with firefighters checking off names and numbers to make sure all of her tenants were accounted for.

“She was very organized and a great asset,” he said.

Byrne said there is no sprinkler system in the building and one wasn’t required when it was built more than 20 years ago.

Once the fire was reported, emergency response plans were put in place by the City of St. John’s, the provincial government and the Red Cross.

Metrobus was on the scene as firefighters fought the blaze, and paramedics helped residents onto a bus where Red Cross volunteers were waiting to comfort them and assess their needs.

More than 100 tenants were taken to city hall, where they were given food and registered in the event family and friends were trying to find them.

“The last residents left around 1:30 (a.m.),” said LeGrow. “We wanted to get them straightened away before we left for the night.”

After everyone was fed, comforted and assessed in the Foran Room, volunteers co-ordinated who need what medications by what time and where they were, she said.

The information was then handed over to the fire department and the building’s owner, who retrieved the medications and brought them to the residents.

“By the time we facilitated that and they went through the apartments to get their medications and get them back in their hands, it was late, but very important to them. Those who didn’t get theirs last night, we’re working on that today,” said LeGrow.

“We have a wonderful, dedicated team of volunteers which helps make everything run smoothly,” she said.

LeGrow said the role of the Red Cross is to be on hand for the most vulnerable and that is what the team did Wednesday and Thursday.

“You can imagine now how obviously traumatizing it is to be put out of your home whether day or night. Plus, it was stormy,” she said.

The Red Cross team registered 125 residents, most of whom were then taken by families and friends. However, LeGrow said 50 tenants didn’t have anywhere to go.

They are  being looked after by the Department of Advanced Education and Skills, says communications director John Tompkins.

“We’re responsible for emergency social services. If an emergency happens and people need food, clothing and shelter, we provide it and pay for it,” he told The Telegram Thursday afternoon.

According to the department’s website, emergency social services is a response program offering essential services to those affected by wide-scale emergency or disaster in the province.

Tompkins said as the situation continues to be assessed the department will help those who need it.

 “We helped 50 last night who had nowhere to go, so we put them up in hotels in the city. Those people we assisted, we will provide assistance again tonight because it doesn’t look like they will be in a position to head back to the building today,” he said.

St. John’s ward Coun. Jonathan Galgay was at the fire scene until about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday and met with several residents who he described as  shaken and confused.

“The design of the building is quite unique, a lot of corridors and 152 units, so some residents were unsure of what was going on because of the location of fire, and some were unsure of where they had to go to leave the building,” he said.

“Obviously, when smoke filled the hallways they panicked and were confused, but overall I think the response and activation time was impressive, to say the least, and I was proud of our staff, the fire department, paramedics, the Red Cross.”

Thursday the building was visited by investigators, insurance adjusters, city officials, property owners and management in an attempt to figure out what units tenants can return to and when, said Byrne.

When contacted by The Telegram, a woman on behalf of Maplewood’s building management said they weren’t commenting about what happened.

When asked what residents should do if they need to gain access to their homes and belongings, she said they should call 709-579-7573.

The building has been turned over to the RNC.

Organizations: Red Cross, Regional Fire Department, Maplewood Apartment building Department of Advanced Education and Skills

Geographic location: Maplewood Place, Shaw Street

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Recent comments

    February 21, 2014 - 13:16

    Angus, where in this article does it say that they distributed water in this case. Not everyone has access to city water, many areas just outside the city are still on well and septic, if they have a disaster they may need water. The article isn't about water, but about how they can assist in times of disaster and they are prepared for whatever comes up, including water if necessary. The picture is only showing that they have water if necessary, you should re read and think about the article, no time was wasted here.

  • Angus
    February 21, 2014 - 11:11

    Why are we wasting time in a situation like this distributing water in plastic bottles as seen in the picture? Seems to that there isn't any need for this type of charity when the purist municipal water in the world is at the turn of a tap.

  • Donna Keats McCullough
    February 21, 2014 - 08:15

    My mother lives in Maplewood and was one of those evacuated. Thankfully my sister had been visiting our Mother when the fire broke out so she wasn't there alone. I would like to say a HUGE thank you to everyone involved in the whole ordeal. My sister says that everyone they encountered was amazing. From the building staff, to the firefighters, paramedics, Salvation Army, The Red Cross and the City of St. John's. Thank you for everyones concern, care and dedication to their respective duties and for preventing what could have been a very tragic event. Everything was carried out with precision and made things a lot easier to deal with. Thank God for looking out for all these people and thank you from the bottom of my heart for a job well done!!!!

  • Marty
    February 21, 2014 - 07:05

    Thankfully everyone was evacuated safely. Kudos to the emergency response team. Hopefully this senior's residence will now be equipped with sprinklers and clear evacuation instructions to help protect these seniors.