The Pennsylvania continuing care retirement community where four residents died in a five-alarm fire in November announced Wednesday that it reopened its skilled nursing section on Monday after replacing equipment, rebuilding utilities and making some other repairs and renovations.
Barclay Friends, in West Chester, PA, about 35 miles west of Philadelphia, also said it is planning to start construction on a new personal care and memory support building in 2019, after having previously announced a desire to begin in 2018. The Nov. 16 fire is believed to have started in what was known as the Woolman building, and that is where the four residents who died had resided. Demolition of the building began in January.
The Cotter building, which houses the skilled nursing program, was protected by a system of firewalls and sustained only water damage, according to Barclay Friends.
“While we continue to carry those in our hearts who lost so much, we are grateful to be able to welcome back many community members to Barclay Friends,” Linda Sterthous, executive director of Barclay Friends, said in a statement. “We will continue to do all we can to foster a healing, nurturing environment for our residents and staff.”
The investigation into the tragedy continues. Attorneys for the families of the some of the residents who died were told by an engineer working with Barclay Friends that water to the building’s sprinkler system was turned off on the night of the fire and that the warning system for the sprinklers falsely indicated that the water was on, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Monday.
Before reopening the Cotter building, Barclay Friends said, all new fire alarm systems were installed. Additionally, Pennsylvania Department of Health divisions or the West Chester fire marshall and code enforcement officer inspected the life safety systems, fire safety procedures and the building to ensure compliance with federal, state and local regulations.
“Staff training continues to be a top priority,” Sterthous said in her statement. “We will continue to hold regular fire drills and will make sure residents and staff alike are attentive to what they need to do if there is ever any kind of emergency. And we will continue to participate in countywide emergency and disaster drills to ensure that Barclay Friends managers coordinate any emergency response with resources available in the larger community.”
Barclay Friends, an affiliate of the not-for-profit Kendal Corp., continues to accept donations for the recovery effort.