, Lightning Strikes – Delmar Gardens Senior Living Fire Hits Close to Home for Harrington Group, Harrington Group IncIt’s been several months since lightning produced by a heavy thunderstorm struck and caused a fire on the top floor of an assisted living center for seniors in Lawrenceville, Georgia, where Harrington Group President Jeff Harrington’s parents happen to reside. After the incident, Delmar Gardens of Gwinnett posted a letter from Fire & Emergency Services Deputy Chief Steve Wilson on its blog, praising the “dedicated, compassionate, and caring staff” for the quick response.

The incident report stated that the alarm sounded at 3:34pm; by the time the emergency squad arrived on the scene nine minutes later, residents were already being evacuated and taken to a safe part of the facility. And, while it was the trained firefighters who did the legwork of containing the flames, the initiative and quick action of the staff shouldn’t be overlooked.

“With the help of the staff in the evacuation process, it allowed part of the fire crews to be utilized to immediately deploy fire attack lines to begin fire attack,” Chief Wilson wrote in his letter. “This resulted in the fire being contained to the original part of involvement and further minimized risks to residents, staff, and emergency personnel.”

Wilson wrote that it also had a “significant impact” on lessening the amount of damage to property and loss of personal belongings.

According to the incident report, the fire was in an area not protected by the sprinkler system. This perfect-storm type of incident—caused by weather, not negligence or an accident—can serve as a reminder that fire protection is a team effort, from the engineers who design the sprinkler systems, to the emergency personnel who show up on the scene, to the everyday civilians whose calm but deliberate response can save lives.

Jeff’s father Dean Harrington wrote about his experiences during this incident. Initially, he was returning from a trip to the grocery store on the Delmar shuttle bus when the lightning struck. He saw the first arriving emergency vehicles in the Delmar parking lot, and he had to sit on the bus for almost an hour, not knowing what had happened and if his wife Barbara was ok. Eventually, he was reunited with Barbara, who was safe and sound in the hallway of the adjacent nursing home. Dean was especially impressed with the extraordinary efforts by the Delmar staff to evacuate all of the residents in the building of fire origin and ensure their safety and comfort. He later wrote,

“I saw in action, the whole staff of Delmar Gardens, acting as a wonderful team, doing all that was needed to help everyone in that very difficult and challenging situation, without any advance time to prepare. They had had fire drills for the staff very frequently, and residents participated a few of those times. It must have been so hard to work in those places where the view was obscured by dense black smoke, with breathing difficult. We were told later that about 150 people were safely evacuated. We know a very nice couple, both of whom weigh over 300 pounds. They both got around in their electric wheelchairs. Somehow, they were brought down safely from their 3rd floor apartment, which was almost directly under the lightning strike.”

Jeff’s parent’s apartment fortunately was unharmed by the fire, smoke and suppression water. They were just a few apartments down the hall from the portion of the building where the lightning strike and fire occurred. In that section, many apartments were a total loss, including their precious contents, due primarily to smoke and water damage. Fortunately, all of the residents were safety evacuated in the early minutes of the incident due to the excellent planning and dedication of the Delmar staff.