Deadly Fire in Senior Citizen Highrise Apartments

CASE STUDY:   Deadly Fire in Wedgwood Senior Citizen Highrise Apartments

BCFS’ Emergency Management Division provided case management to
seniors evacuated from a fatal highrise apartment fire outside San Antonio

INCIDENT SUMMARY:

On December 28, 2014, a fire broke out in the Wedgood Senior Living highrise apartments in the City of Castle Hills outside San Antonio, Texas. The fire departments of Castle Hills and San Antonio responded, and firefighters went door-to-door waking up seniors and evacuating them from the burning building. Most of the residents were evacuated with only the clothes on their back, leaving behind their medications, important documents, and all their personal belongings.
 
Six residents died as a result of the fire – five died on the scene, and one more died days later at a local hospital.
 
Over 200 seniors lived in the apartments, all between the ages of 55 and 100, who were living independently (Wedgwood Senior Living was not an assisted living facility). The apartments remained closed for several weeks while the cause of the fire was investigated. Approximately 200 seniors were left homeless and unable to retrieve what was left of their personal belongings.

MISSION:

BCFS’ Emergency Management Division was approached by the City of San Antonio, the City of Castle Hills, and Bexar County to deploy case management teams, medical professionals and incident management personnel to support the response for Wedgwood residents. Being that this was not an incident of national significance nor did it exceed local ability to respond, there was no declaration and was therefore unfunded.  BCFS’ executive leadership identified case management as a critical unmet need and stepped in to be a force multiplier donating all time, service support and equipment.  Within 24 hours, BCFS EMD established the infrastructure for an effective Emergency Operations Center.  It was there in the City of Castle Hills where a Unified Command was established.   
 
A team of 15 BCFS case managers began meeting with resident’s one-on-one within 48-hours of onsite presence. Case managers identified residents’ most critical unmet needs, like medications, durable medical equipment and other healthcare necessities; arranged for temporary housing with nearby family members or hotels while long-term housing options were established; assisted residents in securing alternate long term living or permanent relocation to facilities selected by each individual; facilitated the donation of furniture for some residents relocating to new apartments; and provided transportation to medical appointments and apartment tours. 
 
BCFS quickly developed a Relocation Resource Guide that connected residents to local and state agencies with instructions on receiving food, housing assistance, laundry services, medical and dental care, specialized resources for diabetics, medical equipment, vision and pharmacy needs.
 
When the volunteer relief agency that was providing food service demobilized, BCFS provided the residents meals for several days. BCFS even provided transportation for seniors who wanted to vote in the special elections for Texas Senate District 26 and House District 123.

OUTCOMES:

  • Overall, BCFS EMD donated over $115,000 in labor, equipment and financial assistance to support the Wedgwood residents in re-establishing their independence and integration into new communities.

  • Within 14 days, over 90% of individuals receiving case management services were assisted in identifying and moving to more suitable long term housing.

  • One month after the fire, case managers completed work with residents to help them return to a sense of normalcy. 

  • BCFS EMD facilitated the relocation of more than 125 people from hotels to long term and permanent housing. 

  • BCFS EMD provided daily health and wellness checks for seniors requiring basic medical care, access to prescription drug refills and general health monitoring. 

  • BCFS EMD facilitated and provided financial assistance to 30 individuals that received furniture from the San Antonio Furniture Bank. 

EMD CAPABILITIES/EXPERIENCE:

BCFS Health and Human Services' Emergency Management Division is a non-profit partner of federal, state and local government and private industry, specializing in emergency management, incident management, disaster response, public health and medical emergency response, mass care, mass fatality planning, medical sheltering and planning for vulnerable populations. BCFS EMD has extensive experience responding to emergency operations that include Hurricane Katrina, the Haiti earthquake, Eagle Pass Tornado, and the Southeast Asia Tsunami.