Marietta, OH Nursing Home Fire, Jan 1970


Marietta, Ohio (UPI) -- Fire destroyed a modern, ranch-style nursing home late Friday night, killing 21 aged patients and injuring 23 others.
Most of the dead were women between 85 and 94 years old, many of them confined to beds with raised iron railings along the sides. Still other victims were strapped in their beds or in wheelchairs.
WILLIAM VEIGEL, an official of the Ohio Department of Health, said the four-year-old Harmar House Nursing Home, a one-story brick structure located atop one of Ohio's highest hills, was "one of the better homes in the state."
"It was better staffed, better equipped and met all the standards," VEIGEL said.
There were 46 patients in the home when the fire broke out. The cause of the fire was not known.
The building was in the shape of four wings, forming a cross. Marietta Fire Chief BEMAN BIEHL said the fire apparently started in one of the rooms in the south wing. He said there was a fire detection system in the home but no sprinkler system. He said a sprinkler system is not called for by state code in a one-floor plan.
"The home went up like cardboard," said JOHN BURNWORTH, mayor of the Ohio River city of 15,000. "There is a terrible mess at the scene. I've never seen so many dead people on the floor like they had at the hospital."
CHARLES BROWN, who lives across the street from the nursing home, said he "couldn't see the home for the smoke."
"There was plenty of screaming," BROWN said. "People were crying, 'Oh my God, help us.' I helped carry some people out.. I took some people to the hospital in my car. Two women were burned so badly I don't believe they lived."
LARRY STEINEL of radio station WMOA in Marietta said one of his reporters, MIKE WEBER, carried out 10 dead persons himself.
It was the worst disaster at a nursing home in Ohio since 1963 when a blaze at the Firchville Nursing Home near Sandusky in north central Ohio killed 63 persons.
DR. SAM HOWE, vice chief of staff at Selby Hospital, said "every ambulance from communities up to 14 miles away" was pressed into service transporting victims from the scene.
"I can't say much, this is a real shock to the community," HOWE said. "It was a fine home. They were all local people. It is a real shock."
JOSEPH S. STUBBS, director of Marietta Memorial Hospital, said six of the patients hospitalized were om critical condition. One fireman, also suffered smoke inhalation and another fireman was injured while fighting the blaze.
The death toll was announced by DR. KENNETH OWEN, the Washington County Coroner.
Firemen, hampered by near-zero temperatures while fighting the blaze, used heaters to warm up some fire hydrants.
Police Capt. JAMES BARR said when he arrived at the scene "smoke was rolling and they were removing people from the building .. firemen, police and neighbors ... anyone there that could help."
"Some rescuers were overcome byu smoke, a lot of people were overcome," BARR said. "I saw no fire. Jus smoke. They were carrying elderly people through windows and doors. Anywhere they could get them."
VEIGEL said the nursing home was inspected three times last year, by the state building, fire and health inspectors. There were no violations, he said.
VEIGEL said the home was fully staffed with 42 people including an administrator.
HELEN WEBER, 93, of Marietta, was one of the survivors of the fire. She was in critical condition at Marietta Memorial Hospital.
Her niece, MRS. RICHARD WEBER, also of Mariella, said her aunt when to the home last February arfter she fractured her hip in a fall.
"It was such a safe place ... such a nice plane," MRS. WEBER said. "They took every precaution. I just can't understant it. It was one of the nicest rest homes I've ever seen."
The building, owned by Health Services, Inc., was sealed off and guarded by police and fire personnel.

The Coshocton Tribune Ohio 1970-01-10