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Grimes Center heroes save patients from fire 


Grimes Center employees watched a Feb. 12 Town Hall, during which they were recognized for their heroic actions during a Feb. 7 fire at the center. 

Shortly after noon on Sunday, Feb. 7, Sheryl Tyril, CNA, heard one of her patients shouting from her room on the fourth floor of the Grimes Center. Tyril rushed in and saw black smoke everywhere. The patient’s bed was on fire. 

“I tried to move the bed, but it was too heavy. I tried to get the patient out of bed so I could put her on a sheet on the floor and drag her out, but she was hanging onto the bed in a panic.”

Tyril ran into the hall to shout for help and got the second patient out of the room. Natasha Hanna, LPN, pulled the fire alarm, initiating a response straight out of the fire safety training Yale New Haven employees take every year.   

The fire, started by a malfunctioning light over the patient’s bed, quickly filled the fourth floor with thick, black smoke. Earl Caple, porter, initially thought the alarm was part a fire drill. Following his training, he grabbed a fire extinguisher and went up to the fourth floor. He saw the smoke and heard Rudy Torre, housekeeper, shouting, “Earl! The wall is on fire!  The wall is on fire!” Both were able to get the patient out of the room. 

Ricky Signor, housekeeping and maintenance specialist, was clearing snow off the sidewalk when he saw the fire alarm strobe lights in the building. 

“When I opened the door, I saw the smoke. I said, ‘I have to go in there.’”

Caple, Torre and Signor joined other staff members who kept running into the thick smoke to retrieve patients – a number of whom couldn’t walk. 

“You couldn’t see anything in the smoke,” Caple said. “I just followed the screaming.”

Carol Work, director, Long-Term Care, viewed the security camera footage of the event after. She said she was speechless as she watched employees disappear into the black smoke on the unit, then come out with patients. 

Working as a team, 12 staff members evacuated 14 patients from the fourth floor – within six minutes. All of this happened before the fire department arrived.

“I can barely come up with the words to describe how well everyone did,” Work said. “They were calm, cool and collected.”

Because of the annual fire safety training and regular drills, employees “knew exactly what to do, and they did it,” said Diane Nunzianto, RN, Grimes director of Nursing. “We are so blessed to have the staff that we have working here.” 

The story doesn’t end there. Because the sprinkler system caused water damage to all four floors at Grimes, other patients had to be relocated. Grimes activated its emergency response plan, and 24 staff members came in during a snowstorm to help their colleagues. Within a few hours, 36 patients were moved to safety and no one was injured. During a Feb. 12 Town Hall meeting, YNHHS CEO Marna Borgstrom thanked Grimes staff. 

“This story demonstrates what we’ve seen during this pandemic and at other times of crisis: our employees’ courage, selflessness, and the absolute commitment to our patients,” she said. “There is nothing more selfless than potentially putting yourselves in harm’s way to make sure that the people who have had their care entrusted to you are safe.”

Grimes employees said that while they appreciated the recognition, they did what they were trained to do.

“We put everything aside and focused on the safety of our patients,” Torre said. “We just treated everybody like our own family members. I couldn’t pick a better team to work with.”