A Look Back: Connecticut Nursing Home Fire Results in 16 Deaths


On February 26, 2003, a patient at a Connecticut nursing home ignited the bedding in her room in the early morning hours.  That fire soon grew from a small fire to spread throughout the nursing home, completely destroying a wing and damaging the rest of the structure.  Sixteen patients were killed and dozens of others were injured.  Looking at the fire events allows us the opportunity to reflect and choose proper fire protection solutions to prevent future tragedies.

The Scene

In 1970, this Connecticut nursing home received its certificate of occupancy andNursing Home Fire license.  It began operating the same year.  The building was a single floor with four wings.  At the time, it held 148 patients.    

The building was given a Type II (111) designation, but after the fire it was determined that Type II (000) would have been more appropriate.  The building did not contain any fire proofing on the steel joists or the underside of the roof.  No fire protection sprinklers were provided.

The Event

A patient with mental incapacities ignited her bedding a little before 2:40am of February 26, 2003.  The first alarm sounded at 2:40am.  A first alarm assignment responded within 4 minutes to find the fire in one patient's room.  Staff were escorting patients out of that wing when fire fighters arrived.  A second alarm sounded at 2:48am and a third at 2:58am.  Additional fire and EMS units arrived at the nursing home soon after.

Extinguishing the fire was difficult because it grew rapidly and the billowing smoke made it hard to complete standard procedures.  Another factor that led to the tragedy was the nursing home staff.  Twelve staff members were working during the time of the fire, but only five were involved in the search and rescue of patients.  At one point, three of the five staff members were assisting just one patient.

The Aftermath

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) investigated this fire.  It was determined that the lack of automatic sprinkler protection led to the large death toll.  This incident spearheaded the mandate of the retroactive installation of automatic sprinkler systems in existing nursing homes.  This law will be enacted in 2013.  Learn more about the requirements here.


Tags:  fire protection, fire prevention, nursing home fire sprinklers, assisted living fire protection, long term care fire protection