OPINION: The wheels on the bus go round and round

Jan. 24—WILLARD — It was like a well-oiled machine.

When fire engulfed the Blossom Healthcare nursing home, 370 E. Howard St., in Willard, people jumped right into action.

The call came in at 5:52 p.m. Jan. 19 about a fire at the nursing center.

"I got a call at 6:17 from Danielle, at dispatch, and she asked me if we were willing to help," Willard City Schools Superintendent Jeff Ritz said. "By 6:18 p.m., Ashley Daub got a call from me and she did a great job getting everybody organized. She was there the entire time. One call from Ashley, and they were on it."

This one call was sent out to the district by Ritz.

"Lastly, We would like to extend a huge thank you to all those who assisted in the nursing home fire last evening. Shout out to all those throughout our community who gave their time and talents to assist those in need. A special shout out to our bus drivers and other staff who helped — Karen Rowe, Karen Sickel, Robin Ruckman, Gary Robinson, Bob Hamons and Dave Teglovic, plus Ashley Daub, Dennis Blanchard, Billy Hicks, Ricky Branham and anyone else I missed

"What a great testament to our community! Truly proud to call Willard Home!"

"It amazed me that Ashley made one call to her team they were all there the rest of the night or until everything was taken care of," Ritz said Tuesday.

Ritz said he sent something out to the neighboring districts and South Central Local Schools Superintendent Ben Chaffee "was right there."

He said Willard services South Central's buses, and Chaffee needed a handicapped-accessible bus.

"We had that bus here that was just serviced," Ritz said. "Ben drove another bus and traded buses when he got here."

The buses transported all 63 residents to area nursing facilities following the fire.

"It was a total small-town effort," Ritz said. "You can not explain that to people in big cities. I am so proud to work with Bryson (city manager Bryson Hamons), Joe (fire chief Joe Reiderman) and Shannon (police chief Shannon Chaffins). I wanted to step up for them in their time in need because they are always there in our time of need.

"Shannon Chaffins actually is a junior high coach for us. When he got the word there was about a minute left in his game. He literally finished the last minute of his game then he bolted off to the fire.

"Bryson is a great leader for our community, along with city council and our board. One common goal. Proud to call Willard home."

Ritz said some of his drivers were on the road until about 1 a.m.

"I found it amazing that all of the employees of the center came back in to help," he said. "That is incredible. I can't say enough about our first responders, bus drivers and everybody. There is nothing like living in a small town."

Huron County Commissioner Terry Boose talked about the situation at Tuesday's meeting.

"I can't thank enough our whole community, but specially Chief Reiderman, his staff and crew for what they did.

"Mary Lisa and myself drove to some of the other nursing homes to see if there was anything we could do to help. The thing that amazed me the most is how the community came together. Commissioner Joe Hintz would always talk about how great the community is we live in. The majority of people don't realize how we all pull together to get things done.

"What happened Thursday night, even though we have a (disaster) plan, we didn't have to pull it out and go detail by detail because everybody got together and did what they needed to."

As Terry and his wife drove by Gaymont Nursing Center they saw two school buses.

"One was a South Central bus," Boose said. "The first person I saw walking off the bus was the South Central superintendent (Chaffee) ... people were stepping up. I went in and talked to the administrator at Gaymont. ... (Taking more residents in will mean more work for them but "they were like this is our job and this is what we do."

"That is what I got from the superintendent from South Central is 'why would you be surprised for me to be here? This is what our community does.'"

The first thing Reiderman talked about the next day was the similarity to the Fitchville nursing home in 1963 — the same day President John Kennedy was assasinated.

"Same number of people ... 63 and 63," he said. "I think they had 63 deaths if I remember right.

"This could haver been so much worse."

Reiderman said he couldn't thank everybody enough for all of the help he received.

"I said a little prayer when I was home ... something could have really gone bad. A lot of skilled people who did an amazing job," he said.

Joe Centers is Reflector managing editor. He can be reached at jcenters@norwalkreflector.com.