An Open Letter from Barclay Friends

Jan. 31, 2019

Dear friends,

With a heavy heart, I write today with an update on the year-long investigation into the fire that destroyed our Barclay Friends’ personal care building, the Woolman Building, last November.

Our hearts ache for the four residents who lost their lives in this devastating event, for their families and for the many others who were displaced.  We will be forever grateful to the first responders and our own staff who acted with bravery that night.

Earlier today, the ATF released information about its now closed case regarding the fire.  Per its release, the ATF reported the official cause as “undetermined.”  However, it did confirm this tragedy began on our garden patio, which we know spread rapidly that evening.  Furthermore, we are deeply distressed to have it affirmed, according to the ATF’s investigation, that the main valve to the Woolman Building’s sprinkler-system was believed to be closed.  This information confirms our worst fears, and we have taken steps to make sure this can never happen again.

Since the night of the fire, we have dedicated ourselves to doing all we can to support the residents, families and staff members impacted. Moreover, we were incredibly humbled by the outpouring of actions, resources and other caring gestures given from our beloved neighbors, community partners and staff. We could not have made it through those many months without you.


Our Commitment

Behind the scenes, we have thoroughly examined and upgraded our fire protection systems and procedures across our campus.

In advance of the reopening of the Cotter skilled nursing building, we installed an all new fire alarm system, and all Life Safety systems were thoroughly inspected by multiple local and state authorities—including experts from Pennsylvania’s Department of Health’s Life Safety Division. We continue to work with a team of expert advisors – engineers and architects – to make our systems better.  And, we have reinforced our training protocols. Since its reopening in April 2018, many of our Cotter residents have returned to us.  We have welcomed many new residents, too.



 After great tragedy comes renewed hope for the future. Here at Barclay Friends, we are well underway in the development of a new personal care building on our campus where the Woolman building once stood. Named the “Preston” building – in honor of the Quaker doctor and educator, Ann Preston – this new facility is being designed with our values closely in mind. Not only will it have state-of-the-art fire safety systems and construction materials, but it also will offer residents spacious rooms, meaningful activities and quality healthcare services in a modern setting.

We are progressing through the approval and development processes for this new facility now, and we will do our best to keep our community up-to-date as this new offering comes to fruition.


Healing Together

Everyone at Barclay Friends will forever remember the devastating events of November 16, 2017. It is part of our history, and those who lost so much remain in our hearts. As reflected in our Quaker values of community and peace, we will take this time to continue to heal together. Barclay Friends is a resilient family, and we thank you for being part of it.



Linda M. Sterthous
Executive Director