November 17, 2017
A federal agency has launched a national response team to investigate the cause of a massive fire at a Chester County senior care facility that sent 27 people to area hospitals.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has deployed a team of forensic chemists, fire protection engineers and explosives enforcement officers to determine the origin and cause of the blaze at the Barclay Friends Senior Living Community.
Firefighters responded to the West Chester facility at 10:46 p.m. Thursday and doused the smoldering building throughout the night. Dozens of neighbors helped rush elderly residents from the center, wrapping them in blankets and carrying them to ambulances on makeshift gurneys.
Authorities do yet have any information detailing the origin or cause of the blaze. Instead, they remain focused on accounting for the roughly 160 residents and employees who were inside the building when the fire broke out.
"At this point, we are still compiling and working the list with the owners of the facility itself," ATF Philadelphia Field Chief Don Robinson said during a Friday afternoon press conference. "(We're) trying to get a solid fix on all the residents, that they all have been accounted for."
No one has come forward to say they haven't been able to locate a family member, authorities said.
Some 25 ATF agents from the agency's Philadelphia and Reading offices are already assisting Chester County officials in the investigation.
But with the fire still burning in some spots, investigators are unable fully process the scene. They also don't know if facility had fire walls or whether sprinkler systems activated during the blaze.
"It's still under investigation," ATF spokeswoman Charlene Hennessy said. "It's too early to tell at this point because we haven't been able to get into the building. It's too unsafe."
Of the 27 people who were treated at three area hospitals, authorities said 17 still remain under care and observation. The extent of their injuries has not been disclosed.
The fire quickly spread to multiple buildings on Thursday night, engulfing sections within minutes. Flames could be seen shooting from the roofs and windows of the structures.
Robert Kagel, Chester County's director of emergency services, said more than 400 emergency personnel responded to the fire.
He credited first responders and neighbors for their response, saying one firefighter fought the blaze until his helmet began to melt.
"They were absolutely heroic and contributed to saving lives and getting people out of the building that was on fire," Kagel said. "We practice for these unfortunate incidents. The overall response to the incident is evidence of how important that training is and how important that practice is."