CLEARFIELD – Students helped save the lives of dozens of residents when a fire engulfed Colonial Courtyard, an assisted living facility, shortly before 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. The facility is located at 1300 Leonard St. in Lawrence Township.
Tammy Miller of State College was teaching her Communication class of 23 men and one woman at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers near the facility. Her students were presenting speeches but became distracted by the lightning glaring into their classroom.
Miller’s class took its break around 7:18 p.m., and her students noticed flames over the roof of Colonial Courtyard. She said, “We watched the flames for another 30 seconds, before I said, ‘there’s a fire. They may need our help.’ At that point, all 25 of us started running down the hill.”
According to her, the facility’s small staff had already started evacuating residents but was overwhelmed with the task of getting dozens of residents out. Many residents were confined to wheelchairs or used walkers.
“If we hadn’t been placed there tonight, it wouldn’t have turned out the way it did,” said Miller.
She said her students who ranged in age from 21 to 34 years old went up and down the hallways to help senior residents to safety. She said when one gentleman had a broken leg they picked him up and carried him from the burning facility.
According to the state’s Department of Public Welfare, Colonial Courtyard could care for up to 72 residents at one time. It was caring for 57 residents at the time of its last inspection by the DPW, which was in March of this year.
Miller estimated staff couldn’t have evacuated any more than 10 residents from the burning facility when her class arrived at the scene. She said at that point, emergency responders hadn’t arrived and her students sprung to action. Miller said the facility staff and her students worked together to get the residents to safety before the arrival of emergency responders.
“The staff was doing a tremendous job. They were running in and out,” she said. “Then, they had 25 of us show up, and it was just a total team effort. Everyone was working well together . . . trying to pull people out and account for people.”
The students, according to Miller, showed up at the scene to “make a difference.” She wasn’t sure if her class’ actions had sunk in for every student. Afterward she said to them, “How many times will you have the opportunity to save a life? You had that opportunity tonight.”
Miller said some residents were being transported to nearby facilities and to the Clearfield Hospital. She said some Colonial Courtyard staff members were being asked to stay with residents whom they had saved all night.
“It really showed the compassion that staff has for each other and its residents,” she said.
Lawrence Township Fire Chief Elliott Neeper said at least 20, different fire companies responded to the four-alarm fire. Neeper said everyone who was inside at the time of the fire was able to escape without injury.
All of the photographs are by Steven McDole.