NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Fire broke out in a four-story nursing home overnight, killing seven residents and critically injuring 20, authorities said today. The residential area of the building had no sprinkler system.
Most of the 116 residents had to be carried out by firefighters or rolled in wheelchairs to safety because few patients could walk and the nursing home's elevators were knocked out in the fire.
Some on upper floors were put on backboards and carried down ladders. Others had oxygen tanks, and one was on a ventilator.
Assistant Fire Chief Lee Bergeron said at least 25 residents were being treated at hospitals for burns and smoke inhalation.
"This is like the worst-case scenario for any firefighter in the country, a nursing home fire," said Deputy Fire Chief Kim Lawson.
Among those killed was the 96-year-old mother of District Fire Chief Bobby Connelly, who had responded to the scene, Lawson said.
The fire started late Thursday at the NHC Healthcare Center, an older building in a medical community on the edge of downtown. The area of the building where the patients live has no sprinkler system, said Michael Usery, a regional vice president of National Healthcare Corp., the company that owns the center.
He said the building was built in the mid-1960s and was not required to have a sprinkler system.
The only sprinkler in the building was over the grill in the kitchen, as required by law, said Gerald Coggin, a National Healthcare Corp. spokesman.
National building codes adopted in 1991 required sprinkler systems in the residential areas of nursing homes. But enforcement was up to the states, and Tennessee did not adopt the stricter standards until 1994.
Because the Nashville nursing home was built with brick and steel, it was required to add sprinklers only if the company extensively renovated the building, said Diane Denton, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health.
Bergeron said the fire appeared to have started in a second-floor corner room, which was filled with smoke when firefighters arrived. He said a task force of state and local authorities would try to determine the cause of the fire.
Asked about the absence of sprinklers, Bergeron said, "It definitely would have made a difference" in saving people's lives.
The evacuated residents were taken to a terrace outside and to a hospital directly across the street. It took firefighters about an hour to contain the blaze, but about two more hours to evacuate the building.
National Healthcare, which operates 87 long-term health care centers, mostly in Tennessee and elsewhere in the South, bought the building in 1976.