On Friday, October 30, 1992, an explosion and fire resulted in the total evacuation of the Woburn Nursing Center, a 101-bed facility, in Woburn, Massachusetts. The explosion occurred when natural gas was accidentally released during construction activities at the facility. The natural gas filled combustible concealed spaces in the building's core area and was ignited by some undetermined heat source. When ignited, the gas-fed fire spread vertically from the basement to the third floor blowing off a section of the building's roof. Twenty-one sprinklers operated controlling the fire while staff members evacuated all patients. Construction workers, neighbors and others provided limited but valuable assistance during the evacuation. Since the evacuation activities were already in progress when they arrived, most of the first-alarm fire fighters were able to concentrate on fire suppression. Twenty-one civilians and two fire fighters sustained injuries though most of these injuries were minor. The damage to the building and its contents was estimated at $1.5 million.
Based on the NFPA's investigation and analysis of this fire, the following significant factors contributed to the successful outcome during the fire at the Woburn Nursing Center:
- 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.