YAI Staff Save the Day After Sprucewood Residence Fire

Mon, May 13, 2019

fire truck parked outside the sprucewood residenceThanks to quick thinking and seamless coordination among YAI’s Long Island staff, residents at YAI’s Sprucewood location are settling back into their routines after an electrical fire destroyed part of their home on March 25.

The bright spring day turned ominous when smoke alarms sounded throughout the rooms at Sprucewood. Although there was no immediate sign of fire, the home’s staff leapt into action to make sure everyone was safely evacuated.

“The staff were nervous because no one knew what was going on,” said Pam Wolff, Assistant Director of YAI’s Long Island Residential Services. “Even so, they handled everything perfectly.”

As fire trucks arrived, the evacuees watched in shock as the small electrical fire consumed the home’s support joist and swept through the basement. Since most of the home’s residents were offsite when the fire took hold, staff faced a new set of challenges as the residents returned from their day program.

“It was really scary for the people we support,” Wolff said. “The number of firemen and emergency vehicles was overwhelming. I felt so bad because they came home but couldn’t even go into the house. Most of them have been living here for over 25 years, so it was really hard on them.”

While part of the staff managed the emotional trauma of the home’s ten residents, others reached out to nearby YAI residences at Merrick and Melville to make sure the Sprucewood residents had a place to stay as damages were assessed. Unfortunately, despite the quick response from Levittown Fire Department, damage to the home’s basement and kitchen turned out to be worse than anyone had imagined.

“In that moment, everyone thought this would be just for one night,” said Victoria Meltzer, YAI Senior Supervisor at Sprucewood. “But, not only were the people we support displaced from their home for two and a half weeks, but the staff and residents at Merrick and Melville were also displaced from their normal routines.”

For almost three weeks, staff worked overtime to ensure that reinforcers, sensory activities and other supplies were evenly split between the two homes. Thanks to their efforts, the Sprucewood residents didn’t miss a single meal, medication, or activity.

“It was really difficult, but it wound up being a good bonding experience,” Wolff said. “I was so happy to work for YAI — the staff at Central Office and Long Island made sure everything was taken care of with the insurance company and the police so the rest of us could focus on the people we support.”

On April 11, the house was declared safe enough for everyone to move back in. While minor repairs are still ongoing, the residents are finally back in their own beds.

“Moving back to the program was an easy transition for all of the people we support,” Meltzer said. “Most of all, they were just very happy to be back home.”