(NOTE: the following article was originally written by Katherine Brozak, Communications Manager at CentraCare – Redwood. She shared it with us, and we’re passing it along as it’s of local interest.)

It was late in the evening on Christmas Day when the fire alarm went off at River Valley Health and Rehabilitation Center in Redwood Falls, setting off a series of events that led to the transfer of 35 residents. 

While there wasn’t a fire in the building, the alarm activated water sensors which caused a water pipe to separate from the sprinkler system. The facility began flooding with water.

“The burst pipe left residents with no fire protection and obstructed egress routes,” explained Redwood Falls Fire Chief, Jeff Bommersbach. “This led to the tough decision to evacuate residents.”

Evacuation plans were put into motion with remarkable efficiency and expertise—thanks to the hard work and dedication of River Valley staff and the assistance of several agencies and entities in the Redwood Falls community. 

“The facility’s emergency plan was flawlessly executed,” said Bill Abderhalden, Health Care Supervisor and Inspector with the State Fire Marshal Division (Minnesota Department of Public Safety) in a letter to leaders of the various agencies. “Facility nurses were not left to fend for themselves during this time of need.”

Bommersbach added that in more than 20 years with the Fire Department, this was one of the most complex evacuations he has been a part of. 

“Everyone stayed calm and patients were at ease throughout the experience while River Valley staff ensured each resident had appropriate medications and unique medical needs met,” said Bommersbach.

Slow and Treacherous Transfer

With weather and road conditions deteriorating, and the different mobility needs of the residents, several different agencies stepped in for support, including Redwood Falls Fire Department and Police Department, CentraCare EMS, Redwood County Sheriff’s Department, Thielen Bus Lines, a county plow as well as the neighboring community fire and ambulance services from Morgan, Olivia and Fairfax. The State Patrol also provided escort on hazardous roads for the vehicles taking residents to their destinations.

“Everyone was willing to jump in and help out, knowing these residents are all someone’s loved one,” recounted Lewis Louwagie, CentraCare Emergency Medical Services Manager.

It took nearly four hours to evacuate all residents to nearby facilities.

“In my 20 years in public safety, I have never seen a community of responders come together and execute such a complex assignment with precision and teamwork,” said Abderhalden. “Everyone worked to ensure the safety of the vulnerable adults at risk, exemplifying that they are true professionals with service-first attitudes.”

Shelter in the Storm

Answering the call as fellow caregivers, patients were accepted at six facilities including CentraCare – Redwood, Garnette Gardens, Wabasso Health and Rehabilitation Center, Parkview Nursing Home, Sleepy Eye Care Center, and Olivia Health and Rehabilitation Center.

“This collaboration among the community was remarkable because, in a time of need, the extended community pulled together to help the patients and staff at River Valley in any and every way possible,” said Kris Garman, CentraCare – Redwood Director of Patient Care.

Garman said acute care staff started early and stayed past the end of their shifts to ensure every resident was cared for during their time at CentraCare – Redwood. 

“This was another amazing demonstration of our mission, values, commitment to rural health care and dedication to the community that the staff display each day,” said Garman.

By Wednesday, Dec. 28, most residents returned to River Valley Health and Rehabilitation Center.