A fire at a nursing home in Charlotte, North Carolina injured two residents in February 2011. One of the victims was reportedly burned trying to help the other resident put the flames out. The names of the two victims have not been released. Both survived their injuries, although initial reports suggested one victim had sustained life-threatening injuries. The fire forced 170 residents to evacuate the 180-bed facility. The building itself was undamaged.
Residents were moved to nearby hospitals and other nursing homes while the North Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control investigated and oversaw the cleanup. A staff member of the nursing home told local news at first that a cigarette started the fire, although smoking is banned at the facility. Fire officials eventually concluded that high heat and a flammable substance caused the fire. Towels washed in an alcohol-based fabric softener were placed in commercial dryers that use higher temperatures than smaller dryers used in single-family homes. The smoldering towels were placed in a linen closet, where they ignited and started the fire.
The state’s Department of Health and Human Services also investigated the incident, which is standard procedure whenever a resident sustains an injury requiring anything beyond first aid. An inspection of the nursing home in 2010 by federal regulators gave it an “average” ranking.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2010 fire departments in the United States responded to 384,000 fires in homes, with 2,640 deaths and 13,350 injuries. These figures do not include firefighters injured or killed in the line of duty. This averages to one fire-related death every 169 minutes in 2010, and an injury once every thirty minutes. Eighty-five percent of 2010 U.S. fire deaths occurred in homes. Inhalation of smoke or poisonous gases is the leading cause of death in fires, as opposed to burn injuries. Most residential fires resulted from cooking, while most fire-related fatalities resulted from smoking.
Nursing homes face considerable risk from fire. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), fire departments nationwide responded to 2,810 nursing home fires from 2002 to 2005, resulting in 16 deaths and 130 injuries. Again, these figures do not include any firefighters killed or injured. Fires causing casualties to residents most often started in bedrooms. A significant percentage of fatal injuries resulted from fires beginning in mattress or bedding materials, electrical wiring, and cable insulation.
Fires are unfortunately a risk in almost any business, although nursing homes may have a greater obligation to keep their vulnerable residents safe. Ordinary fire safety procedures may not be sufficient for residents who require ongoing assistance with daily tasks. The NFPA’s review of fire statistics found that automatic fire suppression systems reduced the death rate per thousand fires by as much as 94 percent, while the absence of such systems increased that death rate more than sixteen times. This is an important fact for residents and their advocates to know.
More Blog Posts:
Caring for Nursing Home Residents During Natural Disasters, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, November 8, 2011
Two Dead from Havre De Grace Fire at Harford County, Maryland Apartment Building, Maryland Accident Law Blog, October 25, 2010
Washington DC Fire at Apartment Building May Have Been Intentionally Set, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, September 30, 2010