Today in fire history: nursing home fire claims 4 lives

Blog Post created by paulalevesque Employee on Mar 13, 2014

On Tuesday, March 13, 1990, a fire of an undetermined cause struck the 90-bed Dardanelle Nursing DardnelleHome in Dardanelle, Arkansas.  This home was a skilled nursing facility and was licensed and inspected by the State of Arkansas.  Of the 85 patients in the building, four died and at least ten others were sent to the hospital.

The building, which was constructed in 1969, was designed for use as a nursing home.  The one story, noncombustible structure had poured concrete floor slabs and concrete block exterior and interior walls.  Most of the walls for the corridor extended from the floor slab to within a few inches of the underside of the roof decking, and walls between rooms extended a few inches above the non-fire-rated, noncombustible suspended ceiling assembly.  The building’s built-up roof was constructed over corrugated metal pans supported by unprotected steel bar joists that were set on top of the corridor and exterior walls.

Two slab-to-slab, concrete-block fire walls divided the building into three areas (west wing, center section, and east wing).  Corridor openings in the fire wall were protected with 1 1/2-hr fire-rated doors equipped with magnetic hold-open devices.  The doors were also equipped with a coordinator for proper sequencing during closing.  Room doors were nonrated, solid core, wood doors with positive latching hardware.

The nonsprinklered building had a fire detection/alarm system that included smoke detectors in the corridor and resident rooms, audible local alarms, alarm lights outside of each patient room, manual pull stations, and interlocks to the HVAC system and the magnetic door holders.  In addition, fire extinguishers and emergency lighting were provided.  A partial automatic sprinkler system was provided protecting the kitchen area, an adjacent storage room, a soiled linen storage room, and the laundry.

The cause of the fire was not determined.  It appears, however, that the first materials ignited were the contents of a clean-linen cart in a linen storage room.  The fire then spread into the space above the room’s suspended ceiling.  Once in the concealed space above the ceiling, the hot gases and flames caused the asphalt in the built-up roof assembly to melt.  Combustible material dripped, and flammable vapors vented into the void space, intensifying the fire and causing heavy smoke.

 The following factors appear to have contributed to the loss of life and property:

    •    The absence of a complete automatic sprinkler system.

    •    The failure of the compartment of origin to contain the fire.

    •    The spread of fire and smoke through concealed space.

NFPA members can download the full investigation report NFPA Fire Investigation Health Care Those interested in more information about nursing home fires can download NFPA Health Care Facilities report and fact sheet