Burned building casts pall over town

Ty Dunham
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Efforts to get hospital back into full operation going well

The fire that began its blaze early Sunday morning is leaving more than a heavy cloud of smoke over the community in Labrador West.

The Captain Jack William Memorial Hospital in Labrador City was evacuated shortly after fire fighters responded to a call on an apartment building next door, and will remain closed until the smoke has cleared.

Labrador City mayor Karen Oldford said getting the hospital operational again is the biggest priority.

Now that the smoke has cleared the cleaning has begun in the hospital. The ventilation systems couldn’t run until the smoke has cleared, and they are required to run for an extended period before air quality testing can be done.

Ozetta Simpson, chief operating officer and VP of long care services, said although they cannot provide a timeline when it will be back in full operation, it’s moving along very well. Air quality testing began Tuesday and results were favourable, and cleaning commenced in the evening.

Eight patients have been temporarily relocated to the nearby Salvation Army Citadel while the hospital is out of commission.

“It’s professionally set up and the patients are getting quality care,” Simpson said. “We have a lot of staff flowing through helping with those clients.

The patients at the citadel are in good spirits, she said.

“They know what’s happening, and they have lots of nurses caring for them. They’re getting really good quality care. There’s no shortage of nurses for them.”

Areas have been quartered off with privacy screens for the patients, with designated areas for emergencies and meals.

Susan Bourgeois, regional director of health records, said the private health practitioners have been a big help.

“They’ve extended their hours, and are willing to take on walk-ins so patients would have a go-to place in the absence of our regular services.

Bourgeois said the Fermont hospital has provided services for lab and x-ray, which has been very helpful.

 “We’ve been very fortunate that CLSC in Fermont have extended assistance to us and are willing to see patients, if the patients choose to present themselves.”

All appointments last week were cancelled, but Bourgeois said all patients would be rescheduled.

“We will be in touch with them to reschedule everyone accordingly. We’re not just going to forget that they’ve had the appointment this week and say too bad; we’ll be in contact.”

Simpson said the evacuation early Sunday morning went very well, and it couldn’t have happened with the wide support.

“Our thanks to the community, the towns, and especially the fire department because of the work they did on our behalf protecting the building from the blaze, and all the businesses, mining companies, and individuals offering to help.”

IOC offered a number of pieces of valuable equipment, such as a pump used for draining lakes to pump more water during the fire, Oldford said.

“Their emergency response team has been there from the get-go with all their support, and both mining companies have also freed up any volunteer firefighters to be on the scene to fight the fire” Oldford said. “They've all stepped in and done everything possible.”

Firefighters from Churchill Falls relieved the local firefighters after the blaze was extinguished at 11pm Monday night, and stayed all night to be sure there were no hot spots. The site of the fire was turned over to RNC investigators Tuesday morning.

Inspector Marlene Jesso, filling in for Inspector Paula Walsh for the week, said the site inspections have been completed.

“We have fire investigators here from St. John’s and Labrador West, and they’re now interviewing people from the area.”

Jesso said contractors, the people who initially reporter the fire, and the building owners are being contacted, and no decision has been made on the cause of the fire.

“We have security on site still because of the hazards to the public. We’d like the public to stay away from the area because of the dangers. They can still drive by, but we’re asking they don’t get out of their vehicles to approach the scene.”

The municipality worked with the provincial government Sunday night on behalf of the hospital to have an air ambulance stationed on the tarmac in Wabush, and has already been used to transport a patient out.

“It’s been a joint effort with fabulous cooperation in the town,” Oldford said.

Heather Bruce-Veitch, manager of human resources, agreed.

“It's been a wonderful collaborative effort with all parties to support the town in handling the situation, which is pretty typical of Labrador West. People come together when they're needed, and we've been pleased to play a small part in that.”

Bruce-Veitch said it’s a substantial loss to the town, and will also have a significant impact on IOC’s recruitment.

“This building was going to be a key part in how we were going to meet our plan, and we’re now looking at every alternative with what we have available to us. But it’s certainly not going to allow us to meet our needs as expected.”

The 107-unit apartment building was going to be filled with a majority of permanent new hires for IOC, mostly with families.

“To be out 107 employees, you can feel that for sure, and it will certainly impact productivity. But the good news story is undoubtedly that there was nobody in there.”

Electricity was not running in the building, and as a result sprinklers were not yet turned on.

Organizations: Captain Jack William Memorial Hospital in Labrador City, Labrador City, Salvation Army Citadel Fermont hospital

Geographic location: Labrador West, Fermont, Wabush

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