Fast-acting staff save senior living center from grass fire

Montana location keeps residents, building safe before firefighters arrive

A mature woman smiles while holding up a newspaper with headline "Firefighters respond to Manor blaze."

A rapidly approaching grass fire had staff members at Good Samaritan Society – Mountain View Manor in Eureka, Montana, springing into action to protect residents.

“It was a pretty dangerous situation,” Society administrator Dan Demmerly says about the incident on Aug. 10.

Demmerly says a spark from a transformer on a power pole landed in tall grass near the skilled care center, home to 36 residents.

“You can actually see the trail from where it started from that power pole. When it hit the tallgrass, it took off from there,” Demmerly says.

As the fire got closer to the location, surrounded by mountains and forests, it began threatening several large propane tanks on the south side of the building.

Resident Annette Newman remembers a neighbor saying, “If it blows, we won’t have to worry about it. We’ll be dead.”

‘Just like the movies’

Newman, who lives in the 200 hall, was evacuated with the other residents to a safer part of the center, away from the fire.

“God bless our staff. They saved the day,” Newman says.

While local firefighters were on their way, Society kitchen, nursing and maintenance staff grabbed fire extinguishers and water and got in between the fire and the tanks.

“It was just like the movies. When you watch TV, where they have a line, and people are getting water to put it out. They pretty much had everything out before the fire department came. At least around the tanks,” Newman says.

A resident here for 23 years, she says the staff’s heroics are not surprising.

“We’re family here,” Newman says.

Demmerly says he’s proud of his team for remaining calm and remembering their training. Staff went through eight fire extinguishers during the process.

“This isn’t just a job for anyone in this place. Their actions indicated that they were concerned about the residents. They were concerned about each other. I was proud of them because they stepped up to the plate,” Demmerly says. “I couldn’t be more proud of them. They’re just good people.”

Administrator has experience with fires

Grass fires and wildfires are nothing new to the community.

“We deal with it pretty much every summer,” Demmerly says.

Back in 2017, Demmerly actually lost his home in a forest fire.

“I know all about fires and how they can be,” Demmerly says.

It was something he was thinking about as thick, white smoke surrounded their Society location this August.

“If I was honest with myself, in the back of my mind that was there,” Demmerly says.

Because of the staff and eventually local firefighters, this fire didn’t have a chance to cause a lot of damage.

No time for popcorn

Newman says when the professionals showed up, she and her fellow residents enjoyed freeze pops while firefighters extinguished the final flames.

She says they “sat there and ate our popsicles while watching the fire.”

Demmerly says the frozen treat was ideal under the circumstances.

“We didn’t have time to make popcorn,” Demmerly says.

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Posted In People & Culture, Senior Services

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