Fire puts nursing home residents in Wagner polling place

By: - November 8, 2022 5:10 pm

Some poll workers in Wagner had to make space for around two dozen senior citizens on Tuesday after a late morning fire damaged the city’s

Nursing home residents were forced to move into the Wagner National Guard Armory on election day in Wagner, South Dakota after a fire. Poll workers at that voting location were moved to a different area to accommodate the residents.
Nursing home residents were forced to move into the Wagner National Guard Armory on election day in Wagner, South Dakota after a fire. Poll workers at that voting location were moved to a different area to accommodate the residents. (submitted by Frances Zephier)

Good Samaritan Center.

The fire at the nursing home in the city of 1,400 broke out around 11 a.m., according to Charles Mix County Emergency Manager Mike Kotab. The roof burned, but the residents were evacuated and no one was hurt, he said.

“There’s enough damage that it will be out of commission for a while,” Kotab said.

The residents moved in with poll workers at the Wagner National Guard Armory shortly after the fire, according to Charles Mix County Auditor Jason Gant. 

“We were pretty spread out (in the gymnasium), so we just moved our poll workers into a different area to make space for beds and medical equipment,” Gant said. 

The armory is the polling place for two of the 13 precincts in the county. Charles Mix has a total population of about 9,100. The election is still running smoothly, Gant said, in spite of the unexpected influx of visitors to the polling place.

“We had to roll with what was happening and try to help out,” he said.

Smoke rolls off the roof of the Good Samaritan Center on Nov. 8, 2022 in Wagner, South Dakota.
Smoke rolls off the roof of the Good Samaritan Center on Nov. 8, 2022 in Wagner, South Dakota. (photo submitted by Frances Zephier)

Dustin Zephier is a cook at the facility and was at work when the fire broke out. 

“All I know was I was cooking, and the next thing we knew there was smoke,” Zephier said. “As soon as we got outside and saw flames, everybody was evacuated.”

He and his coworkers helped move all 42 residents out of the building as fire crews arrived, and later fed them food donated by local restaurants. Residents with higher medical needs were moved to Wagner Community Hospital, he said. 

“It was basically all hands on deck, even for people (at Good Sam) who had the day off,” he said. “There were teachers there from the school, and all the restaurants chipped in to donate food.”

The incident and response shows the value of a well-trained staff during emergency situations, said Phil Samuelson, Good Samaritan Society executive director.

“We plan for events like these and are so grateful to our staff for their quick actions to ensure residents’ safety. We cannot thank the community enough for their support during this time,” he said. “Residents are being relocated to nearby Good Samaritan Society locations while crews are on-site assessing the damage and investigating the cause of the fire.”

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John Hult
John Hult

John is the senior reporter for South Dakota Searchlight. He has more than 15 years experience covering criminal justice, the environment and public affairs in South Dakota, including more than a decade at the Sioux falls Argus Leader.

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