A fire that struck a nursing home while patients were going to sleep killed nine people and injured nearly 100 as rescuers rushed dazed patients to safety through halls flooded with choking smoke.
The elderly evacuees, some in bedclothes and some of whom were naked when they were saved, were helped through halls and down ladders as firefighters tackled the blaze, reported at 10:30 p.m. Thursday.Patients huddled early today on lawns of houses near the 160-bed Hillhaven Rehabilitation and Convalescent Center, attended by paramedics and neighbors.
The fire was mostly contained to a second-floor room of the four-story brick home, but smoke spread throughout, and many of the injured suffered from smoke inhalation, said Fire Chief Thomas E. Gardner.
"I woke up in a roomful of smoke," said patient Robert Bell, 82. "The whole room was saturated with smoke. You couldn't see and you couldn't hardly breathe."
The cause of the fire was not immediately determined, but authorities ruled out foul play, Gardner said this morning.
Gardner said the nursing home did not have any sprinklers, but said they were not required when the home was built in 1969. He said he hoped the fire would inspire lawmakers to require sprinklers.
"I personally advocate that you don't build anything in the city that you don't put sprinklers in," Gardner said today. "I'm hoping this will cause the legislators to help make a modification to the building code that would require a sprinkler system in at least buildings of this occupancy class."
He also said the rescue efforts were hampered by the fact that many patients "were hooked up to all sorts of medical equipment."
The nine residents - eight women and one man ranging in age from 65 to 97 - died of smoke inhalation, a hospital official said.