Community pitches in to support victims at Pa. senior living community

Volunteers at Good Will Fire Company No. 2 help sort through donations for residents displaced by the five-alarm fire at Barclay Friends Senior Living Community in West Chester, Pa. (Shai Ben-Yaacov, WHYY)

Volunteers at Good Will Fire Company No. 2 help sort through donations for residents displaced by the five-alarm fire at Barclay Friends Senior Living Community in West Chester, Pa. (Shai Ben-Yaacov, WHYY)

There’s been an outpouring of community support following last week’s five-alarm blaze that engulfed a senior living complex in West Chester, Pa.

The fire started at 10:46 p.m. Thursday in an assisted living area for people with memory issues and quickly ripped through the campus of several buildings making up the Barclay Friends Senior Living Community. Authorities said 27 people were injured, and an undisclosed number remained unaccounted for as federal agents worked over the weekend to investigate the cause.

The Good Will Volunteer Fire Company was one of the first to show up on the scene Thursday night.

Anthony McCumsie has only been with the company since April, and had never seen a five-alarm fire up close. “It’s definitely an adrenaline rush more than anything,” he said. “You really don’t care about your own sense of safety. It’s you’re doing a job, you don’t know if there’s anyone in there, and you have to get them out.  That’s your number one priority.”

On Sunday morning, the fire house turned into a donation center, buzzing with volunteers like Nikki Walton who sorted through large piles of plastic bags and cardboard boxes chock full of items for the roughly 160 elderly residents displaced by the fire — everything from bars of soap and shaving cream to shoes and winter coats.

“I didn’t go up that night. My husband did, and he said it was devastating,” said Walton, who lives around the corner from Barclay Friends. “But our whole neighborhood … went up there and were helping and bringing them blankets and it was a big response from the whole community.”

The drive was organized by Trucks2, a volunteer group assembled earlier this fall to help with hurricane relief efforts.

Co-founder Dawn Cruz said relatives of the fire victims will gather on Monday to select items for their loved ones. “We’re allowing the families to come in and basically pick through and take what they need for family members,” she said.

Len Ostanek came by the fire house to drop off some slippers and adult diapers. “Having parents who have been in nursing homes, it really struck home how when you’re institutionalized like that, that’s an abrupt change and that’s very difficult,” he said. “So any help we could give them, I’m happy to help out.”

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