| Jan 12, 2006


Feature Article - January 12, 2006

Feature Article

January 12, 2006

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Community Living rising from the ashes: Devastating fire destroys building and vehicles, but no one is harmed

by JeffGreen

Community Living - North Frontenac provides support for 78 developmentally challenged people in North, Central, and parts of South Frontenac. Until 2:15 am last Friday morning the agency’s office in Sharbot Lake was the hub around which a host of group activities and direct supports were built. All of that changed when a fire, which had started in the building’s basement, raced through the building, destroying it completely in just a few minutes.

Fire fighters arrived just minutes after neighbours phoned 911, but the building was already engulfed in flames by the time they arrived.

“When the crew from Station #2 (Oso station) arrived, the radiant heat was melting the siding on the residence next door, so the immediate priority was to prevent the fire from spreading to that building,” said Central Frontenac Fire Chief Mark MacDonald.

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Fortunately the Community Living building was empty when the fire started, because fire crews would not have been able to rescue people from the building when they arrived.

“The amount of heat generated by a fire like that would make it impossible to approach the building. You couldn’t even stand on the sidewalk at the Anglican Church across the road, the heat was that intense.”

Fire crews made full use of equipment they have acquired in the past couple of years to contain the blaze. They used a turret gun mechanism, mounted on one of the pumper/tanker trucks purchased last year to send a stream of water mixed with fire retardant foam onto the building next to the Community Living office building.

Since the fire took place very close to the Sharbot Lake fire station, where a large cistern contains 15,000 gallons of water, a wide, flexible pipe was set up to provide a continuous supply of water to the pumper at the fire.

Two other pumper/tankers, from Station 3 (Olden) and Station 4 (Hinchinbrooke) soon arrived on the scene and began drawing water from Sharbot Lake to keep the cistern full. All told, 30 firefighters from three stations responded to the fire, and local businesses and organizations opened their doors to help the firefighters battle the blaze. Brett Harvey opened the Valumart store so the firefighters could get coffee; the Rising Bun sent sandwiches; the Maples sent pizza, and the people from St. Andrew’s Anglican Church served the firefighters breakfast and lunch.

Don Nielsen, the Executive Director of Community Living North Frontenac arrived at the scene at about 3:30 a.m. By that time the building was a pile of rubble. Six vehicles, which Community Living owns, were parked by the building, and the fire destroyed four of them: two were burned up and two were destroyed by falling debris. Two vehicles appear to have suffered only surface damage, but that can only be determined once new keys can be secured from the dealers who sold the vehicles to the agency.

Although all of Community Living’s financial records and some historical documentation is stored off site, all other information: client files, employee records, etc. were destroyed by the fire. Nonetheless workers carried on, providing support for clients on Friday, using their own vehicles for transportation.

Nielsen phoned the insurance company and his contact at the provincial government department that funds Community Living North Frontenac before dawn on Friday morning, and planning for the future of the agency began while the old building was still smouldering.

“I’m working out of one of our employees’ kitchen tables and from my car,” said Don Nielsen on Monday, as he rushed to meetings with insurance adjusters.

In the short term, Nielsen is looking for space so Community Living can get a temporary office up and running.

“We have received offers of temporary space from Northern Frontenac Community Services, the Anglican Church and the United Church, which we greatly appreciate,” said Nielsen. There is also a possibility of using part the former Sharbot Lake Retail Centre at the junction of Highway 7 and 38. The building is now owned by the Kaillons, who are planning to redevelop it, “but they said space would be available on a temporary basis for us, which we appreciate as well,” said Nielsen.

Nielsen hopes to have a temporary home for Community Living lined up by the end of this week.

As to the immediate future, the possibility of rebuilding on the same site is the first option being explored.

“I met with Ian Trickett [the Central Frontenac Chief Building Official] this morning, and he said as far as he can tell there is no obvious impediment to our building a similar-sized small office building at the same location.”

However, there are many regulatory hoops that Community Living will have to jump through before a new building can be constructed.

“Whether we can build on that site or not, we would like to keep our office right in the village,” Nielsen said.

A furnace malfunction caused the fire, the fire department has determined after investigating over the weekend. “It was what is known as a ‘runaway furnace’,” said Mark MacDonald, “The furnace was not operating properly and that caused a build up of soot on the flue which prevented gases from flowing through the chimney. The heat kept building up in the furnace until it reached such a high level that a fire started in the basement.”

Community Living North Frontenac purchased the property in Sharbot Lake about 6 years ago, and had a new furnace installed about 18 months ago.

“The lesson to take from this is to be careful with any type of heating appliance that is being used,” said Mark MacDonald, “be it an oil or propane furnace or a wood stove, and make sure all smoke alarms are operating properly. This kind of malfunction can also cause carbon monoxide to escape, and we recommend that carbon monoxide detectors, located within hearing range of sleeping areas, be installed in all residences.”

New regulations, which are coming into place this March, require that smoke alarms are in place on every floor of a residence.

Community Living North Frontenac is celebrating its 30th year of operation in 2006, and planning had already begun for commemorative events in August.

“I guess we won’t have as much in the way of pictures and documents for those events,” said Don Nielsen.

But Nielsen is optimistic that Community Living may have a new home by that time.

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