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Officials: Not all residents accounted for in West Chester nursing home fire

Officials said 27 people were injured in the fire at the Barclay Friends Senior Living acility,

4-alarm blaze at the Barclay Friends Nursing Home in West Chester, residents many in wheelchairs some in beds evacuated from the building, Thursday, November 16, 2017.
4-alarm blaze at the Barclay Friends Nursing Home in West Chester, residents many in wheelchairs some in beds evacuated from the building, Thursday, November 16, 2017.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

Officials say they are still trying to account for all the residents of a large nursing home complex in West Chester that was reduced to rubble in a five-alarm fire Thursday night.

More than 15 hours after the fire broke out in the assisted care section of the Barclay Friends Senior Living facility Thursday night, authorities reported that 27 people were injured and 17 remained hospitalized.

They said they are still trying account for all the residents. After the fire, residents were taken to hospitals or temporary shelters. Those in shelters were either placed in other facilities or reunited with family. Officials said some residents may have gone off with family members unbeknownst to them. They did not say how many remained unaccounted for.

One man, Ken McGill, of West Chester, said his in-laws were missing and that facility administrators have not yet been able to locate them at any hospital or other facility taking in displaced Barclay Friends residents. He declined to identify them.

Officials said 160 residents and staff were in the complex when the fire built out.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

It took firefighters more than 2 ½ hours to bring the blaze under control, but hours later they were still dousing the smoldering ruins with water and investigators are not expected to get into the building until the weekend.

Many of the facility's residents were pushed in wheelchairs and rolled on beds and ambulance litters to safety after the fire broke out around 10:46 p.m. Thursday.

Neighborhood residents in the meantime rushed to assist facility staff members, firefighters and police with the evacuation, working quickly to get the residents away from the raging blaze. Hypothermia was a concern as temperatures in the low 40s felt like 30s in the brisk winds.

First responders "made numerous rescues," officials said. Injured residents were taken to area hospitals, including Chester County Hospital, about a half-mile away.

Seven patients were taken to Paoli Hospital, where they were reported in fair condition Friday morning.

Barclay Friends is a wood frame structure without a basement and is "fully sprinklered," according to Pennsylvania Department of Health building inspection reports. It has been cited for fire safety violations in the past, but they were quickly resolved.

The raging fire destroyed much of the roof while filling the sky with smoke and blanketing the area with the smell of burnt wood.

Fire trucks and ambulances filled surrounding streets and some firefighters had to leave their vehicles blocks away and walked to the fire zone.

Paul Swanson, who lives behind the facility, was sleep when he heard the fire trucks and his wife "scream something about a fire."

It was 10:50 p.m. and his daughter had just dialed 911. He looked out his back window saw flames. Within in minutes, they were spreading along the roof, he said.

"They could hardly do anything to prevent it from spreading," he said as he watched crews continue to pour water into the badly damaged building about nine hours after it was first reported. "It just burned a long time."

Residents were taken to several locations, including the Good Fellowship Ambulance Company and West Chester University, where they waited until they could be placed in another facility or reunited with family.

Red Cross regional communications manager Mar Torres. The last of the residents had been placed before 9 a.m.

"It was really organized,"  Red Cross regional communications manager Mar Torres said of the shelter in a WCU gym . "A lot of kids from the university came over to help."

One fire official estimated more than 200 people had been evacuated from the fire buildings and other units.

Barclay Friends, with revenues of $14 million, is a 98-bed skilled nursing facility with a 49-bed personal care facility, the home's 2015 non-profit tax returns show. It has recently expanded its facility. Just over half of its residents are listed as private pay. Thirty four percent are covered  by Medicaid and 14 percent by Medicare, the records show.

The blaze at Barclay Friends was reported at 10:46 p.m. and climbed to five alarms in about a half hour.

At one points flames rose over the top of some of the buildings in the facility, which offers various levels of care from memory care and skilled nursing to post-acute rehabilitation.

Residents are evacuated from the building to the Good Fellowship Ambulance Company as they wait for family or to be transferred to another facility.Jim McGrady, 75, had just turned off the Pittsburgh Steelers football game when he looked out the window of his room in the Goshen Building at Barclay and saw people pushing patients.

"Little did I know, the place was on fire," said McGrady, a former volunteer with the Berwyn Fire Company.

Soon, he said, someone came and took him from his room, saying "The place is on fire."

McGrady, wrapped in blankets and sheets, said there was no smoke in his unit and that the evacuation was calm.

Outside, he said he saw fire coming through the roof of the Wollman Building.

He awaited an ambulance to take him from the scene.

Bob Reuther, an Owen Street neighbor of Barclay Friends, was at home late Thursday when his daughter came in and told him that the nursing facility was on fire.

As he walked toward the brick and frame buildings, Reuther said he saw about 30 other neighbors and staff going in and out of the buildings, pushing patients in chairs and beds up a hill.

He jumped in to assist, staying with McGrady to help him.

"The staff was incredible," he said. The staffers were going through and checking every room for patients, he added.

Reuther said he and other neighbors stayed with the evacuated patients for about three hours, talking to them, giving them water and trying to keep them warm. He said neighbors were bringing blankets from their homes to warm the patients.

"They were lined up for a block," he said.

At his particular triage area — on North Franklin and Ashbridge  — Reuther estimated there were more than 100 patients assembled.

"It was amazing to watch people just walk in here and help," he said. "The community really came out."

A five-alarm fire ravaged the Barclay Friends Senior Living facility in West Chester late Thursday night into Friday morning, forcing the evacuation of more than 200 residents into 40-degree temperatures and sending an unknown number to area hospitals.The blaze brought a huge response of firefighters. Dave March, a spokesman for the Borough of West Chester, said as many as 50-60 trucks and 200 firefighters from as many as 30 companies rallied from around the Chester and Delaware County area.

Barclay was founded by Quakers in 1893 and became part of Kendal Corp., another Quaker nonprofit that in 2016 was the nation's 11th-largest nonprofit senior living company, according to the latest LeadingAge Ziegler report. Kendal is based near Kennett Square.

The most serious incident at Barclay in recent years was the choking death of a resident on Sept. 30, 2016. The resident, with a known choking risk, was given the wrong person's meal. The Pennsylvania Department of Health, which regulates Barclay's 96-bed nursing home, fined the facility $9,750 in April for that incident and other deficiencies in medication and care practices.

Staff writers Stacey Burling, William Bender, Mark Fazlollah and Howard Brubaker and staff photographer Steven M. Falk contributed reporting to this story.