By Kirsten Irgens-Moller, North County Regional Supervisor
On Friday, October 16th, Tippy Irwin, our Executive Director ran into the office with an urgent message: “…. Drop everything, GO, GO, GO…. There is a fire at Burlingame Long Term Care and all 272 residents have to be evacuated…. “ As I drove up Highway 280 towards Trousdale Ave, I had visions of flames shooting out of the roof and all the very frail residents being carried out on the backs of their caregivers.
Fortunately by the time we arrived there were no flames, just the smell of smoke from an electrical fire, a street blocked off with fire engines and a block full of ambulances, Reddi Wheel vans and Multi-Casualty disaster buses from San Francisco. But where were they going to take the patients being evacuated?
The halls were dark and stifling with heat but the emergency generators had kicked in and the elevators were working to bring down gurneys with the bed- bound residents. Though there were no flames, the small electrical fire had created a power outage that made the facility unlivable and beds had to be found for all of the residents. People in wheelchairs sat in the lobby with name tags, and plastic bags with a few belongings and medicines. Another group waited in the hallway and yet another group was lined up on the sidewalk outside.
Now the job was to find temporary shelter for the 272 resident, 214 of whom were non-ambulatory. The Red Cross showed up with offers of shelter space and lists of Board and Care facilities and hotels were compiled, but how was it going to be possible to house people who need hospital beds, oxygen, IV medicine, or have renal failure or dementia? Hours of phone calls by Ombudsman Services staff, county officials and facility staff finally yielded enough beds — sometimes one or two beds at a time, with a good 35 people admitted to San Mateo Medical Center. Thank you to all of the good Samaritans who offered vacant beds in Skilled Nursing facilities in San Mateo, Oakland, Santa Clara and San Francisco and to the police, fire department and county emergency officials and Red Cross who all showed up to lend a hand.
By 5:30, when the power came back on, and officials declared the place safe for patients and staff, 72 patients had been relocated. A lesson we all learned that day is that we have the will and the resources to respond to an emergency and that we want to have a better plan for coordinating all of those resources. It could have been worse and it was a good lesson for all of us about how we can improve. See news coverage, including an interview with our own Judith Guilfoyle at