Residents at the Citadel Care Centre returned home for the first time this week since fleeing the Citadel Mews West fire on May 6.
Cheers erupted from the entrance into the continuing-care facility throughout the day on Thursday as staff holding signs reading "Welcome home" and "We missed you" greeted residents as they arrived.
Buses from St. Albert Transit and long-term care centres in the Edmonton area have been transporting returning residents in phases since May 11. As of Friday, all 129 residents are back home.
"We have had just a revolving door of buses dropping off residents ever since," said Dana Schnepf, Citadel director of care and site manager. "The very first busload of residents to come back had everyone in tears here upon their arrival. It was quite a moment."
The Citadel Care Centre, operated by Qualicare Corporation, is located in the middle building adjacent to Citadel Mews West and Citadel Mews East – both facilities operated by Christenson Communities. When the fire engulfed the Citadel Mews West building, Citadel Care staff jumped into action to make sure residents were safe in case the fire spread.
All 129 residents were evacuated, almost all of them had to be carried down stairs and out of the building by staff and bystanders. Residents were then taken to long-term care centres in and around St. Albert as firefighters battled the blaze to get it under control.
While the fire severely damaged the west wing of the complex, the Citadel Care facility was largely left unscathed. After restoration efforts were completed, Alberta health officials gave the facility the green light to bring residents back in, less than a week after the fire.
Happy to be home
Bill Sherstan, 93, was one of the first seniors to arrive back at the Citadel. He was reading a newspaper sitting in his wheelchair Thursday afternoon.
Sherstan said he was just getting ready for bed when all of a sudden, the alarm went off. He went to the end of the hall, where he learned there was a fire next door. "By the time I got here and looked out the window, you could see the fire, the black smoke, then the white steam."
He wheeled himself to the entrance and had to be lifted down the stairs by two people. He left with nothing but the clothes on his back.
"I really didn't get in a panic as far as feeling anything. It was kind of a helpless feeling," he said. "I'm happy that there were no casualties and also that the wind didn't turn. If it had turned a quarter to the right, it would have been terrible."
When he got back to Citadel on Tuesday morning, staff welcomed him with cheers and applause.
"It felt like I won the Stanley Cup," he said with a smile. "They were all excited, I didn't expect it, it almost caught me off-guard!"
Theresa Werner, 100, was staying active in her unit Thursday afternoon, lifting two small weights with her arms as she sat on her bed (she said she likes activities that keep her moving).
"Too much sleeping here, it makes me too stiff. Now I just do my weights," she said.
She said she couldn't see the fire from the window, but she could smell the smoke. A staff member came in to tell her they had to get out immediately.
"Everybody was taken out, so I couldn't take anything," she said. "It was midnight, and the wind was icy. Then someone came around with blankets, and then my daughter came."
After spending a few days at another care facility, Werner was welcomed back to the Citadel on Wednesday.
"I'm glad to be here, what an experience," Werner said. This isn't the first time Werner has been forced to leave her home – Werner and her family fled their home in Yugoslavia from Nazi Germany during the Second World War.
Rose Savard, 91, was relocated to the Youville Home in St. Albert during the fire. She returned to Citadel Care on Wednesday.
"We were all happy, it was like being born again," Savard said, relaxed in her bed next to the window in her unit. "I am excited to be back home."
On the day of the fire, Savard said all she saw was smoke. She was brought down the stairs to the sidewalk along with more than 100 others, as people ran around giving seniors blankets, food, and water. She said she is very thankful for the efforts of everyone that day.
"That was very nice for them to do this. Those are people who love people, and that's the way it should be," she said. "When you need something, other people should help. Today, people are about me, myself alone ... don't just be by yourself. See to others, too."