First responders safely evacuate residents during fire at Silverbell Estates nursing home

By Jim Newell
Review Editor
ORION TWP. — Eighty-five residents at the Villa at Silverbell Estates care facility on W. Silverbell Road had to be evacuated on May 10 while firefighters put out what appears to be a small fire originating from an HVAC unit on the roof of the building.
Orion Township Fire Department acting Fire Chief John Pender said the call came in at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday that the facility’s halls had filled with smoke.
“It appears that it started in an HVAC unit on the roof but the investigation is still ongoing and we’ll know more next week,” Pender said. “It does appear that there was a small fire in the HVAC unit that pushed a large amount of smoke into the hallways.”
Firefighters from the Orion Township Fire Department responded immediately. Oxford Township, Auburn Hills, Oakland Township fire departments responded to the scene to provide aid, while Addison and Brandon township fire departments assisted with covering Orion Township while Orion firefighters were at the scene, Pender said.
The Villa at Silverbell Estates, 1255 W. Silverbell Rd., opened in July 2015 at and provides post-acute and long-term care for its residents, according to the medical facility’s website.
“The first arriving unit found that the sprinkler head had activated, and there was a large amount of smoke,” Pender said. “Then our department, along with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office and the (Villa at Silverbell Estates) staff started evacuating the residents.”
Lt. Darren Ofiara, commander of the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office Orion Township Substation, said they contacted the Lake Orion Community Schools bus garage to send out school buses to serve as warming shelters.
The school district’s transportation department sent four buses: two regular buses and two with wheelchair lifts. Silverbell Estates residents in wheelchairs and those who could walk were evacuated outside the building and given blankets to stay warm and put on the buses, Ofiara said.
Those residents who were unable to be moved from the facility were relocated inside the building.
“We were able to move the bed-ridden patients and keep them in the back of the building in a safe location,” Pender said.
Ten deputies from the sheriff’s office responded to the scene to help evacuate residents and close down Silverbell Road to make sure no first responders would encounter traffic problems while firefighters were securing the building and residents, Ofiara said.
“We were very well prepared for something like this. Our deputies did fantastic. The fire department did fantastic. And I cannot give enough applause to the schools and the bus garage. They did a fantastic job. They did great, without complaint. They just popped in and they basically saved the day,” Ofiara said.
“We activated the Oakland County Tactical Rescue Team and they brought out a warming tent. Once that was set up, we removed the residents from the buses and put them in the warming tent so we could let the buses go so that they could take the kids to school,” Pender said.
Firefighters continued to monitor patients throughout the emergency and some needed to be taken to the hospital.
“We had several patients that required medical assistance and transport to the hospital while the incident was going on,” Pender said. “Most of the people that needed medical attention were from high CO (carbon monoxide) levels from the smoke, or they were sick. We think the situation may have made a pre-existing condition worse.”
No first responders were injured in the incident, Ofiara and Pender said.
Firefighters cleared the facility and were able to eventually get the residents who were in the warming shelter back into a portion of the building. The last unit cleared the site around 1 p.m., Pender said.
“We were able to get the patients back into some of the rooms, and then moved patients from the parking lot back inside while the facility staff determined where to move them until the building could be cleaned and disinfected,” Pender said. “It couldn’t have been handled any better. Under the situation, it went as well as it could have. We successfully evacuated 85 residents with no injuries with a hallway that was completely filled with smoke. I couldn’t have been prouder of how my firefighters and the assisting agencies did. Everybody worked perfectly together.
“And I can’t say enough for the schools and the people that brought the buses out there. They were awesome,” Pender said.

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