10 die in fire at Conn. nursing home

23 others hospitalized

police question resident as arson probe begins

February 27, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

HARTFORD, Conn. - A fire raced through one wing of a Connecticut nursing home in the middle of the night, killing 10 people and sending 23 to hospitals with injuries yesterday, officials said. Police said investigators were questioning a resident who had been taken into custody.

The fire broke out at the Greenwood Health Center in Hartford shortly after 2:30 a.m. Witnesses reported hearing windows breaking and screams from the sprawling one-story building on the city's west side, about a mile and a half from the state Capitol.

A woman who was visiting her grandfather, a resident of the home, said nurses would roll one person outside in a wheelchair, lift the patient out, then push the wheelchair back inside to evacuate someone else.

"It was like a live ER on TV - emergency medical room," she said. "There were people outside; they had to get them inside" and out of the cold.

Other witnesses said nurses tried to fight the flames with fire extinguishers and that residents who had been taken outside - where the temperature was 13 and falling - were helped into another part of the building.

Mayor Eddie A. Perez called the blaze "suspicious in nature." State and local officials declined to comment on the cause and would not identify the person being questioned except to say that the person is a patient at the home. Officials said arson investigators were going through the wreckage.

"It's certainly the worst fire we've had in the city of Hartford in several decades," Fire Chief Charles Teale said at a news conference.

Teale said 100 of the 148 patients had been evacuated. He said the rescue effort was complicated because many residents were bedridden or unable to walk to safety without assistance. Other officials said many residents were dependent on respirators. Some patients were said to have been in comas for years.

The fire "was in a wing where people were more at risk, where people were bedridden or in wheelchairs," Marilyn Rossetti, a member of the Hartford City Council, told WBZ-AM radio in Boston.

Eleven patients were treated at Hartford Hospital, including six who were in critical condition. Three were transferred to other hospitals. Dr. Robert Powers, chief of emergency medicine at Hartford Hospital, said all patients who had been taken there "were in pretty bad shape" but that only one had suffered burns. The rest were being treated for smoke inhalation.

Ten other patients were taken to St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center and its affiliated Mount Sinai campus in Hartford. Four were in serious condition and two in fair condition. Three were treated and released, including two Greenwood employees.

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