1950-1980: Nursing Home Fires

Summary: Hundreds of people died in multi-fatality nursing home fires.

Not surprisingly, with government financial spigots open wide and few restrictions on what nursing homes should look like or how they should operate, quality issues started to come to the forefront. Among other problems, the lack of standards and the old age of many of the converted buildings made nursing homes fire hazards. When they did burn, there were often many deaths because they were filled with frail elderly residents who were unable to get themselves out of danger. One of the most tragic events was a fire in a nursing home in Warrenton, Missouri on February 17, 1957.

Although the headline says 71 died, the final death count was actually 72 residents from the Sunday morning fire. One of the articles in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the following day reports, "Screams and cries of elderly patients trapped in the Katie Jane Memorial Home were quickly stilled by flames which engulfed the 2 1/2 story brick building within minutes...Rescuers worked frantically to assist as many as possible out of the doomed dormitory, but after the first several minutes they labored in an eerie silence broken only by the sounds of crackling flames, hissing streams of water and shouted orders of firefighters." Inspectors reported that they suspected that there was a problem with the wiring in the home which might have caused the blaze, and they had been in the process of reviewing the home's license.

A 1952 nursing home fire in Hillsboro, Missouri had claimed the life of 20 nursing home residents, and the impact of two major nursing home fires in five years stimulated the Missouri legislature into action. They met the day after the Warrenton fire and immediately introduced a bill to require sprinkler systems in all nursing homes and other institutions in the state.

Other major, multi-fatality nursing home fires included:

Residents
Killed
Date Place
20 October 31, 1952 Hillsboro, MO
33 March 29, 1953 Largo, FL
21 January 30, 1957 Hogham, WA
72 February 17, 1957 Warrenton, MO
63 November 23, 1963 Fitchville, OH
20 December 18, 1964 Fountaintown, IN
31 January 9, 1970 Marietta, OH
23 January 30, 1976 Chicago, IL
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