Margate Fire Lt. Anthony Tabasso chats with a senior citizen at the Bloom Pavilion, Friday, Oct. 11.

MARGATE About 60 senior citizens started their Friday morning visit to the Bloom Pavilion with a card party and cream cheese and bagels, but soon found themselves evacuating the center down a flight of stairs on the exterior of the building.

Margate Fire Lt. Anthony Tabasso and a crew of firefighters showed up for their annual Fire Prevention Week talk with the seniors, but what the seniors were not expecting was a surprise fire drill designed for their own safety.

“It’s been a few years since we had a fire drill,” said Maryanne Christian, who manages Margate’s senior citizens program at the Bloom Pavilion.

“It’s a surprise. They don’t know it’s coming,” she said quietly before the alarm started blaring.

Fire Investigator Perry Coker said the public schools are required to hold fire and lock down drills once a month during the school year.

“It’s state regulation,” he said.

However, there are no requirements to hold fire drills in public buildings, although they are necessary for seniors to create awareness about their surroundings, he said.

“Adults will remember more fire safety tips than children,” Coker said.

However, when they visited city schools and community pre-school programs this week, firefighters provided children with only five of the most important fire safety messages, including stop, drop, roll; crawling under the smoke; and having a family escape plan.

“Don’t worry. We’re not going to make you stop, drop and roll,” Tabasso joked.

Instead, he started his talk with some important tips about fire safety at home, including installation of smoke and CO detectors on every floor of a home.

“If you are not able, we will install them for you for free and we will even come and change the batteries,” he said. “Just call us.”

Smoke detectors should be checked monthly, and the batteries changed twice a year with the change of clocks in spring and fall, he said.

He talked about a recent fire in Margate that started in a clothes dryer. The property owner tried to put out the fire with a fire extinguisher and wound up burning his hands and experiencing smoke inhalation. He was taken to the hospital as a precaution. His injuries were minor, but it could have been a lot worse, Tabasso said, urging seniors to call 911 and get out of a burning building as quickly as possible.

“We can be there within two minutes,” he said.

He also talked about cooking safety.

“Never put water on a stove fire,” Tabasso said. “It will only make things worse. If something is on fire in the oven, leave the door closed. Ovens are designed to hold in the heat and the fire will eventually burn out. Don’t open the oven door, or you will let in oxygen, which will feed the flames. Also, don’t wear loose sleeves when cooking.”

Again, he advised calling 911 as soon as possible.

“Ultimately, the most important thing is to get you out,” he said.

Tabasso said he was pleased with how quickly seniors were able to evacuate the second-floor meeting room. Seniors were out within 60 seconds, although it took a little longer to descend the metal fire escape on the side of the building.

Capt. Chris Hornig said city recently ordered an upgrade to the building’s fire alarm panel and the work would be done soon, he said.

“This is considered a high-hazard building because it is a public space, so it is important to have a modern, efficient fire system,” he said.

Hornig said the new alarm would probably sound the same.

“These days, the sound of the alarms is universal,” he said.


Nanette LoBiondo Galloway

Award winning journalist covering news, events and people of Atlantic County for more than 20 years.