Today in fire history: sprinklers control fire after explosion in nursing home

Blog Post created by ryan.quinn Employee on Oct 30, 2011

On Friday, October 30, 1992, an explosion and fire led to the total evacuation of a 101-bed nursing facility in Woburn, Massachusetts.    The explosion occurred when natural gas was accidentally released during construction activities.  This gas filed concealed spaces in the building and was eventually ignited by an undetermined heat source.  Once ignited, the fire spread vertically from the basement to the top of the building and blew off a section of the roof.  Twenty-one sprinklers activated, controlling the fire while staff evacuated patients.  Because the staff was able to handle most of the evacuation, firefighters were able to focus on fire suppression.  This fire caused injuries to twenty-one civilians and two firefighters, and an estimated $1.5 million ($2.3 million in today’s dollars) in property damage.

Based on NFPA’s investigation, the following contributed to the success of the fire response in this incident.

  • The installation and operation of a supervised and approved automatic sprinkler system
  • The existence of and administrative commitment to programs and procedures describing staff emergency response
  • The immediate actions of trained staff members following the explosion
  • The quick response of fire department, emergency medical, and other personnel who, through a coordinated effort, were able to perform their respective tasks as well as assist the nursing home staff in the care of evacuated residents.

NFPA’s full investigation report is available for free to members and a summary in Spanish is available to all site visitors.   If you’re not a member, consider joining, access to our research is just one benefit.

-Ben Evarts