By Jim Caufield

Chief editor

A fire in a ground-floor elevator control room at the Perry Lutheran Home shortly after 4 a.m. Tuesday caused the evacuation of the nursing home’s residents in 30-degree temperatures. There were no injuries, and fire crews quickly controlled the blaze.

Perry Volunteer Fire Department Chief Chris Hinds said the fire "appears to have been caused by an electric motor that operates the hydraulic pump on the elevator."

The equipment is housed in a basement room of the building, a space about 10 feet square, Hinds said. The room was locked when firefighters arrived, and they had to break down the door to enter and attack the fire, he said.

Hinds said there was "extensive fire damage to the elevator equipment and heavy smoke damage to the whole east wing" of the Lutheran Home. He said firefighters stayed on the scene about two hours, ventilating the building to clear it of smoke.

Hinds estimated the damages from the fire at $30,000.

Upwards of 70 residents were evacuated by about four night-shift workers, who were assisted in the effort by off-duty staff persons and Perry Police officers. The residents remained outdoors for about 30 minutes before firefighters cleared them to reenter the west wing of the facility, according to Hinds.

Lutheran Home Chief Executive Officer Max Phillips said the evacuation procedures worked exactly as planned.

"We give a lot of attention to this kind of planning," he said, "and I’m very proud that our staff and managers handled this event with all the professionalism that is expected of them. I’m not surprised that they did but am very proud."

He said the evacuation was even assisted by some former employees who had left to start families but came back to help out.

Phillips said the ground floor of the east wing of the facility, where one of the building’s two elevators is housed and which sustained the most smoke damage, is being professionally cleaned. Otherwise, things have returned to normal, he said.

Phillips was unsure of the age of the elevator, but both he and Hinds noted elevators must be regularly inspected and serviced in order to be certified in compliance with state regulations, although it is usually the elevator companies themselves that do the inspections, Hinds said.