A Traumatic Event – A Blessing and a Witness

Last Sunday evening, October 26, I hosted a birthday party at the rectory for my mother who had two days before turned 83.  Our family was gathered, there were children and babies and adults all mixing and mingling with one another and greeting Margaret, our mother, on the anniversary of her date of birth.  It was festive, joyful and my mother seemed to be in particularly good humour.  Before we were to sing Happy Birthday to our mother, I thought it an opportune time to say a prayer over her for her birthday and ask God’s blessing.  Afterward, I was rather critical within myself for the words I had chosen which prayed for “God’s fullest blessing on mom, that He would keep her safe in His care for all our hope and trust is in Him”.  I reflected on my words and considered it a rather serious blessing feeling that I should have just thanked God on behalf of our family for all the many blessings He’d given her; a loving husband and family, a good long life, relatively good health (though my mom’s had Dementia for over 15 years now) and a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that has been unshakeable.  But I didn’t.  I prayed for God’s protection on her.  “Why did I do that?”, I asked myself.  Until the following day.

Last Monday morning at around 9:30 am., just eighteen hours after I had prayed that prayer over mom, the fire alarms rang throughout the nursing home my mother has called her home these past 4 years.  At first, having become used to the many practice drills the staff of Fairview Lodge have become used to, everyone thought it was yet another drill.  But then the call came blurting out over the PA system, “This is not a drill.  Please evacuate all residents from the building immediately, repeat…..”. All of the staff quickly and efficiently mobilized to do that most important thing to be done in the wake of a fire, most especially in a nursing home with 192 residents who are vulnerable, confused and scared – to get everyone out of their rooms, beds, bathrooms or wherever they are and get them safely out of and far away from the building and to make sure every last one, including staff, is accounted for.  And that is precisely what this most incredible, caring staff did in all of just 3 minutes.  The three-times-per-month fire drills had paid off in that not a single resident or staff member was injured, save one employee who was sent to hospital from smoke inhalation.

When one thinks of nursing home fires these last two decades and the great loss of life which has resulted from each of these fires, it is truly amazing and a wonder that no one was injured or lost their lives through this devastating fire.  This is thanks in no small measure to the brave and well-trained staff of Fairview Lodge.

In January of this year a devastating fire tore through a 14-year-old nursing home in L’Isle-Verte, Quebec taking the lives of over 30 people.  In May of 2012 a nursing home fire in Hawksbury, Ontario took the lives of an elderly couple who were killed in a blaze in that facility.  In October of the same year a person died in a fire in a London Ontario nursing home.  In 2009 a retirement home blaze in Orillia, Ontario took the lives of four people and in 2011 a fire in another retirement home took the life of a single elderly person. In 1995 a fire in a retirement home in Mississauga, Ontario killed 8 people.  Between 1969 and 1980 three nursing home fires in Canada claimed the lives of 97 elderly.  Considering this kind of previous Canadian history of fires in nursing home facilities it is truly remarkable that Fairview Lodge’s fire of this past week saw every single resident get out of the building unscathed.  It could have turned out so differently.

While there is a great deal of evil that takes place in this world there are always the great news stories, which often aren’t told or shared, of those who give witness to the presence of love in this world.  The staff of Fairview Lodge, always exceptional in the love and care they give to their residents, were truly heroes that day for doing more than ‘just their job’.  They were witnesses of care for the vulnerable who everyday depend on that care for their living and survival.  Their very lives are owed to them and to the many citizens who jumped out of their vehicles or ran from their homes to offer assistance in getting everyone out.  The care for residents who had been evacuated from the nursing home continued on in a well-organized way as people were fed and comforted by the staff and family members who had arrived to be with their loved ones.  While the event itself has been disastrous to the building, the fire could have been of entirely different human proportions had it not been for the care and guidance of God and those many people who witness the goodness of human beings that can triumph over tragedy.

Those who were evacuated from the nursing home were transported by bus or wheeled over to St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Whitby, just a block away from the nursing home.  When I heard about the fire and arrived to look for my mom, no one was being permitted entry into the church.  Not knowing where my mother was exactly, I ventured across the parking lot to the former Denis O’Connor high school and entered what was the old gym when I saw my mother’s roommate, Kathy.  She waved to get my attention and then pointed to my mother on the opposite side of the room.  Just seeing her was moving and emotional.  When my mother saw me she began to laugh. It was a good sign that she was okay and safe.

The new home, located just south of the old buildings, was supposed to be ready this past September but due to various delays won’t be completed until February or later.  While all of the residents have been relocated to various hospitals and nursing homes in the area, (my mother is at Hillsdale Terrace in Oshawa) they are still displaced from the place they have called their home until the new building is completed.  The transition, I know, has been hard on some of the residents as they feel out of place and confused while others, like my mother, don’t seem to show any notice of being in a different environment at all.  They need our prayers and I need to be and am grateful to God for His protection of mom and them all in His beautiful  answer to my birthday prayer for mom.  (Fr. Charles)

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