Fire Safety at Ohio Nursing Homes

fire safety in Ohio nursing homeWhen you begin searching for a nursing home care facility for Mom or Dad or another loved one, it’s a daunting task.  What is most important to consider?  A clean environment?  A caring staff?  A track record for great activities? A cheerful setting that makes your parent or relative almost feel like they’re at home?

Perhaps the best search might begin by looking up—not to check for cobwebs on the ceiling—but to determine whether or not the nursing home facility you are considering has a sprinkler system.  Since 1960 more than 100 people have been killed by fires in nursing homes in Ohio.  The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports an average of 2,300 fires in nursing homes each year or a fire occurring at one in seven facilities.

Many nursing home facilities currently have sprinkler systems. In 2008, federal regulations gave long-term care facilities until August 2013 to phase in automatic sprinklers as a condition of continuing to serve Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.  At the time the mandate was issued there were 16,000 long-term care nursing homes with three million residents.

But just having a sprinkler system isn’t enough.  Sprinklers in nursing homes fail to operate 20 percent of the time, the NFPA says, due to lack of maintenance, corrosion and water supply.  Also, sprinklers may not be activated immediately—a smoldering mattress or piece of upholstered furniture may project considerable lethal smoke and toxic gases without creating sufficient heat to activate sprinklers.  Thus, it is important to have backup protection systems.

Some relevant questions to ask in determining the level of fire protection at a facility and to find out whether management takes your concerns seriously are:

  • Does the facility have written evacuation procedures and is every member of the staff familiar with them?
  • Is there an evacuation plan that involves all staff members who practice the plan regularly?  Do the residents have an opportunity to learn what to do in an emergency?
  • Are there additional safety systems such as clearly marked alternate exits and smoke detectors?
  • Is the building well-maintained with no boxes or other storage items blocking doors or hallways?
  •  What is the staff-to-patient ratio during the day?  At night?  On weekends and holidays?  Is there supervisory staff available to carry out an escape plan?  A diminished staff-to-patient ratio is clearly a hazard as one person can assist a limited number of people to safety, especially if several patients are not ambulatory.
  • Are backgrounds checks performed on employees and how extensive are they?  If there are drug tests—what kind? (hair follicle analysis, urinalysis, etc.)

In any case, sprinkler systems have been shown to decrease the chance of fire-related death by 82 percent.  More frequent fire safety inspections also lower fatalities, according to the NFPA.

Ohio has been the scene of two high-fatality nursing home fires, neither of them recent.  Sixty three residents of The Golden Age nursing home in Fitchville, Ohio lost their lives in November 1963 in what was one of the deadliest nursing home blazes ever recorded.  Observers said many residents did not go out the doors of the facility, but panicked and returned to their beds awaiting rescue.

Twenty one residents of Harmer House in Marietta, Ohio died in a fire at that location in 1970.

More recently, a woman died in a November 2011 fire in the Day Springs long-term care facility in Enon, Ohio after a nursing home employee set fire to a storage room.  The 19-year-old employee was later charged with murder and aggravated arson.

An unusual fire that drew national attention, but did not kill any nursing home residents occurred this past March at Park Haven nursing home in Ashtabula, Ohio.  Two visitors to the home apparently brought in items to make methamphetamine, a highly addictive stimulant which can be made in a large bottle—referred to as “shake and bake.”

The mixture exploded at the nursing home and killed one of the visitors, a 31-year-old meth addict.  The nursing home was cited with violating federal regulations and the state revoked the facility’s Medicaid license.  Park Haven closed at the end of March 2012 and the remaining 30 residents were relocated.

There are many websites one can use to check nursing horsing citations.  One comprehensive site is and features such topics as elder abuse, neglect, deficiency and inspection and ratings and reports.  It also includes a 50-state directory of any nursing home violations and gives resources for free legal help.

If a parent, spouse or other family member is not getting the proper care, and this includes fire protection, in a nursing home or assisted living situation, you may need assistance in handling the matter.  Please contact Slater & Zurz LLP by calling 1-888-709-9967  for a free nursing home consultation with an experienced Ohio nursing home abuse attorney.

Slater & Zurz has also dedicated a separate website to the subject of nursing home abuse in Ohio.  It’s filled with a wide variety of useful information.  To visit the site, click  on the following link: 

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About slaterzurz

Slater & Zurz LLP is an Ohio law firm of highly experienced and respected attorneys. Over the last 40 years, we have developed a reputation for getting positive results for clients. We've been trusted with handling over 20,000 personal injury cases and our clients have received more than $120,000,000.

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