(Credit: Kari Greer / USFS via NASA)

If the Marshall Fire in Colorado taught Cindy Longfellow of Juniper Communities anything, it was to be prepared for anything.

The blaze, which began Dec. 30 and was fueled by hurricane-force winds, destroyed more than 1,000 homes and burned more than 6,000 acres in Superior, Louisville and Boulder counties.

At least two senior care providers have been caught in its path – Juniper Village in Louisville Memory Care and Balfour Senior Living, with a five-community campus in Louisville, CO, serving 400 residents in independent living, assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing care.


It was the morning of December 30, just before New Years Eve, when Longfellow, vice president of business development, sales and marketing for Juniper Communities, heard of a wildfire about a mile and a half from his home.

35-year-old Colorado resident, Longfellow said McKnight Seniors Residence she was used to dealing with forest fires. But Marshall’s fire turned into something she called “unprecedented.”

In the early afternoon, the Boulder County Emergency Management Office declared the city of Louisville, CO, on evacuation order. Shortly after, emergency personnel arrived at Juniper Village, where staff members were initially ordered to shelter in place. The problem? Emergency crews had a hard time evacuating Centennial Peaks Hospital, a behavioral health hospital and the larger Avista Adventist hospital across the street.

Staff at Longfellow and Juniper disclosed the disaster and evacuation plans they had in place, but soon learned they were going to have to go beyond the pages of the plan.

At the corporate level, Longfellow and Vice President of Risk Management and Business Operations Don Breneman worked with Juniper Village Executive Director Dallas Mulvin and his team to coordinate the relocation of 46 residents in memory care.

But they soon realized that their original evacuation site, the Avista Adventist Hospital across the street, was not on the table because it was being evacuated himself. The next two evacuation sites on the list, two regional hospitals, were filling up with patients from Avista Hospital.

Fortunately, said Longfellow, Juniper Village had developed a relationship with Golden Lodge Assisted Living and Memory Care. The community of Golden, CO, had opened amid the pandemic and was not yet at full capacity. A call to Golden Lodge was met with enthusiasm and a promise to house the displaced residents of Juniper Village, she said.

“It was nothing less than a miracle” to relocate residents to a secure memory-care community, Longfellow said.

Staff and residents alike sat down and watched the fire approach, arriving from the west side of the hospital buildings, she said. By late afternoon, the community was finally ordered to leave and three Boulder County buses arrived.

Residents of Jumper Village joined 35,000 other residents on congested roads, making a normal 30-mile trip to Golden Lodge in over two hours. But everyone was safe, and that night everyone was settled in the Golden Lodge.

Meanwhile, Balfour had a daunting task ahead of her with 400 residents, many of whom needed two to three people to help them move and evacuate.

“Thinking about that number continues to make us think. That we were able to move everything and now come home is amazing, ”said Louise Garrels, senior director of marketing and communications at Balfour Living. McKnight Seniors Residence.

Due to the proximity of the Balfour campus to the fire, the community chose to have a senior manager – Vice President of Operations Julie Nash – to coordinate the triage off site and at a distance. fire safety.

Regional Operations Vice President Eric Bressler coordinated efforts across the campus, while executive directors from each community on campus coordinated their resident evacuations – Becki Siemers for Balfour Retirement Community (assisted living and skilled nursing), Michele Sepples for Balfour at Cherrywood Village (memory care), Richard Conklin for The Lodge & Residences at Balfour (independent living) and Andrea Stewart for Balfour at Lavender Farms (assisted living).

The evacuation was assisted by a mix of business executives, from sister communities – Balfour in Central Park and Balfour in Riverfront Park in Denver; Balfour at Littleton in Littleton, CO; and Balfour in Longmont in Longmont, CO – and neighboring senior living communities – Brookdale Longmont, Vivage Senior Living in Lakewood, CO, and St. Paul Health Center in Denver. All of these groups, Garrels said, showed up with vans to help transport residents, as did the St. Vrain Valley School District in Denver.

Self-catering Balfour residents were accommodated by Woodspring Suites, and assisted living residents stayed at the Fairfield Inn and the Frasier Meadows assisted living community in Boulder, CO. Accel in Longmont, a qualified nursing home, and AltaVita Senior Residences, which offers independent living, assisted living and memory care in Longmont, CO ;. Trained nursing residents stayed at the Gardens on Quail retirement community, which offers health and memory care, in Arvada, Colo.

The return

While the majority of Balfour residents were able to return home the next day, residents of Juniper Village spent about a week at the Golden Lodge.

Longfellow said that after assessing the situation, it became clear that the move would take more than a night or two for residents of Juniper Village.

As restoration crews got to work this weekend fixing the building, replacing HVAC filters, restoring power, and removing smoke and ash, Longfellow was working on the phones trying to find real beds for replace temporary camp beds that residents were using. She managed to find a local company, which provided 40 beds at a reduced rate despite their warehouse being closed and no delivery person on duty.

“They found a way,” Longfellow said.

Throughout the ordeal, she led the effort to communicate with the families. She and her team of four called each family daily. Families, Longfellow said, appreciated the efforts, saying they provided “a feeling of relief.”

“We felt that the personal point of contact with each family each day was essential,” she said.

While on the move, an employee tested positive for COVID-19 as part of a standard testing protocol before her shift. Subsequent testing of all residents and staff did not reveal any additional cases of the coronavirus, but Longfellow said the community had had to close visits for a few days.

“It was a big blow and a burden on our families after all of this,” said Longfellow. “It was hard for them.”

It wasn’t until January 7 that residents were able to return to Juniper Village, assisted by three buses from Balfour Senior Living. The connections between the sales teams provided the necessary transportation to help the memory care residents return home.

Balfour has had to work hard to restore utilities to 300,000 square feet of living space on its campus. In the meantime, portable generators have been used to run heaters to keep pipes from freezing. Although the fire was fueled by hot, dry weather and high winds, by the time independent residents, assisted living facilities and skilled nurses returned on December 31, snow and temperatures began to drop. .

Memory care residents have been delayed to return to their building until January 11 due to concerns over a boil water alert and additional cleaning needed due to the building’s proximity to the fire. .

Lessons learned

Garrels said the experience contributed to the organization’s success in the Marshall Fire. Many of the leadership team had survived the 2013 Boulder County Centennial Flood, either with Balfour or with other organizations. Although Balfour did not need to evacuate at that time, many were still aware of what was going on in an evacuation.

Others, she said, had worked in retirement homes in Florida and were inspired by the experience of hurricane evacuations.

For others who might be facing a similar situation, Garrels said it’s important to stay calm – and help others stay calm – and not be afraid to ask for help. Building strong community relationships outside of buildings, she said, is vital.

Juniper Village was lucky, Longfellow said. The Avista Adventist Hospital across the street remains closed due to fire damage. And a whole residential area in front of the community, as well as a school nearby, have disappeared.

“I have walked the Fire Trail a few times,” she said. “I don’t understand it.”

Looking back, Longfellow said the biggest takeaway for her from the ordeal was, “Don’t think your disaster plan goes far enough and far enough.” When the emergency struck, Juniper Village’s three evacuation sites were ultimately not options.

“What if everyone has to evacuate?” She said, adding that fire escape plans generally take into account a localized fire, not something on the scale of the Marshall fire. We probably need five [evacuation sites].

“Consider following this escape plan and deepening each delta three to four stages,” she advised peer organizations.

Supporting employees is also important, Longfellow said. Even as the community worked quickly to evacuate its residents, management reassured employees that the company was “supporting” them and would help them in the way they needed. Employees also received “hero pay” for their work during the ordeal.

“People were scared,” Longfellow said. “There’s a fire across the road. But they played.

“They put these residents before their fear. It is, in my mind, just amazing.

Editor’s Note: Read disaster preparedness tips from Stan Szpytek, President of Fire and Life Safety Inc., here.