Archive for Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Alarm forces center to evacuate residents

October 25, 2006

For the second time in recent months, fire alarms sounded Sunday at Tonganoxie Nursing Center. But fortunately, this time there was no fire -- just smoke from a belt in a rooftop furnace above the dining room.

The center's alarm system detected the odor about 6:20 a.m. and the monitoring system alerted the fire department.

Because the alarm sounded during shift change, more personnel were present than usual.

The night shift had not yet left the building. The employees bundled up the 66 patients and took them outside where the temperature hovered at 30 degrees.

Although emergency workers planned to move the patients into one of the Tonganoxie school buildings, that wasn't necessary -- because there was no fire. And in about 20 minutes, residents were back inside the nursing center.

This was much different from an incident July 1, when fire broke out inside a clothes dryer in the nursing center's laundry room. Residents were evacuated and housed in other facilities for about a week and a half.

Sunday morning's fire alarm awakened Tonganoxie Fire Chief Dave Bennett. He was concerned to think there might be a fire at the nursing center.

"We take every call seriously," Bennett said. "But with that many residents in there and a lot of them are not ambulatory, we unleash the gates. We're going to put enough people in there so we can handle the situation."

The city, school district, council on aging, police department, sheriff's office and the county's department of emergency management were notified.

And within minutes area fire departments arrived to assist the Tonganoxie fire department.

Firefighters from Tonganoxie Township, Stranger Township, Fairmount Township and Reno Township were at the scene. Sherman and District 1 fire departments were on standby.

Chuck Magaha, who is Leavenworth County's director of emergency preparedness, said everything went well after Sunday's alarm sounded.

Magaha had participated in July's evacuation of the nursing center. And during the October 2005 flooding, he helped evacuate a nursing center in Easton.

"I thought, 'Good grief, here we go again,'" Magaha said about his thoughts as he heard the report on the scanner Sunday morning.

Like Bennett, Magaha takes emergencies seriously, particularly when they involve nursing centers.

"Whenever you're dealing with special needs, evacuations, it always gets the adrenaline pumping," Magaha said. "But plans need to be well thought out before you start making decisions. You don't want to take a stressful situation and make it more stressful by making the wrong decision."

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