Three people required hospital treatment for smoke inhalation after a fire broke out at World Services for the Blind Thursday. The entire campus is now closed temporarily for clean-up.
The fire broke out shortly after 3 p.m. on the campus located at 2811 Fair Park Boulevard in Little Rock. The fire started in the lounge area in one of the dormitories. All 20 clients and 14 staff members were all accounted for less than 10 minutes after the fire was reported. But three people were unable to get out of their rooms. Firefighters from the Little Rock Fire Department rescued all of them, including two who had to escape from a third floor window. All three were taken to local hospitals after suffering smoke inhalation. Two of them were able to leave the hospital Thursday night. The third stayed overnight and was released today.
Smoke damage in up to 10 dorm rooms will require detailed professional cleaning, said Robin Green, communications coordinator. “There is extensive smoke damage on the walls, ceilings, the lounge area is destroyed. And it stinks like you wouldn’t believe in there right now,” she said.
All of the clients whose rooms were damaged were moved to another dorm on campus, Green said.
“Last night we made an emergency trip to Bed Bath & Beyond and bought all new bedding. [The] dorm that we moved them into is in the process of having upgrades, so the rooms weren’t ready because, obviously, we weren’t expecting to have a fire. So we had staff members here pretty much until midnight last night who were cleaning rooms, putting new bedding on the beds, [getting] the rooms ready for the clients. Everything went smooth. The clients, they trust us, they know we’re going to make sure they’re taken care of, and we did and we will.”
During the deep cleaning required to rehab the smoke-damaged rooms, the entire campus has to be temporarily evacuated. “So we’re actually moving everybody to a hotel by the airport at 4 o’clock this afternoon, and they’ll come back on campus Monday after lunch.”
World Services for the Blind is a nonprofit offering life skills and career training programs for the blind or visually impaired. Its the only rehab facility of its kind that stayed open when the pandemic hit last year. “Every other facility like ours in the country shut down,” Green said. “We did not and the reason why is because 65% of our population on campus here are homeless. They have nothing to go home to. So we kept our doors open. We were in our own little COVID bubble,” she said.
Thursday’s fire damage comes on the heels of the February snowstorm that caused water pipes to burst at the World Services campus.
“We couldn’t cook, we couldn’t flush toilets, we had to move all of our clients to a hotel for five nights. Now, the fire. It’s crazy how much, how resilient these clients are. They could just give up and go home and finish their training online if they wanted to but they’re not. And I look at them and I think, they’re my heroes is all I can say. They have survived and gone through so much in the last year. They are amazing people,” Green said.
Green said the community response to the fire has been amazing.
“Last night Me & McGee Market donated funds to bring in pizza and cases of water because we had no way to get drinks. Scott McGehee [from Yellow Rocket Concepts] is taking care of lunch and dinner [today].”
Green is coordinating meals being delivered to the hotel this weekend since the clients can’t be on campus.
“Several other people in the community and restaurant owners reached out and said, ‘We want to donate, we want to do something.’ We’ve gotten some amazing financial contributions via our website. People are reaching out just to ask how we’re doing. The community response has just been overwhelming.”
You can donate to World Services for the Blind here.