Firefighters were called to the Payson Senior Center Tuesday morning after staff saw smoke coming from a cooler on top of the building and smelled what they thought was burning electrical wires.
As a precaution, fire officials called a first alarm with four fire engines responding to 514 W. Main St. About a dozen seniors in the center were evacuated and waited in the nearby Humane Society thrift store parking lot, watching as Payson police officers closed part of the street to traffic.
Suzanne Kammerman, the center’s director of operations, said staff and volunteers had shut everything down and got everyone out safely when emergency personnel arrived.
The fire department’s inspection of the cooling unit, which is connected to venting in the center’s kitchen, proved inconclusive, she said.
The cooling unit remains shut down, but the vent system is still operational.
Another cooling system in the kitchen, donated a few years ago by the Town of Star Valley and O’Connor Heating & Cooling in Star Valley, is working and saving the kitchen staff, she said.
The Payson Senior Center has operated out of the building for more than 20 years. Before the center took over the space, it had served as a bowling alley and skating rink. Next door, where the center runs the Trinkets & Treasures Thrift Store, was a post office.
In October, a portion of the ceiling collapsed in the dining hall due to a leaky roof.
“We’re holding the place together by prayer,” Kammerman said.
An answer to that prayer may be on the horizon — the center has purchased land to build a new facility and a campaign for construction funding is planned.
While the incident earlier this week was frightening — one senior had to be given oxygen by paramedics due to a possible panic attack — Kammerman said it was also a learning experience.
“People are afraid to call 911 thinking it might turn out to be nothing and they will be embarrassed or they will be putting the first responders out. A fireman I spoke with said you should never, ever feel that way. It is better to be safe than sorry,” Kammerman said.
She later learned from a police officer that should something like this happen in the future, the seniors could be moved from the center into the thrift store and kept comfortable.