Nursing Home Patient Dies After Starting Fire in Facility While Smoking Unsupervised

A nursing home patient started a fire in the facility when he was allowed by facility staff to smoke near an oxygen tank while in bed.  The oxygen machine added fuel to the fire.  As a representative of the fire marshall's office noted, "Anytime you introduce oxygen, especially that quality of oxygen into a fire environment, all you're going to do is help the fire and that's exactly what it did."

Staff apparently acted quickly once they noticed the fire, and fire fighters arrived on the scene within minutes, keeping injuries and property damage to a minimum.  Sadly, one patient died and nine others received smoke inhalation injuries in the fire.  Although the fire was contained to the victim's bed, one wing of the nursing home was closed indefinitely.  Read more about the fire. 

After reading this story, I'm left with lots of unanswered questions . . . even though the fire was contained to one patient's bed, how did the patient get access to matches or a lighter to "light up" in the facility?  Why was a patient receiving oxygen permitted to have cigarettes?  Who was supposed to be supervising the smoking patient?  Why didn't staff respond sooner when cigarette smoke began wafting its way throughout the facility?  If staff responded as quickly as they claim, how could eight others receive enough smoke inhalation injury to require hospitalization? 

The nursing home could not have been supervising its patients properly.   Concentrated oxygen is a well-known fire catalyst.  Allowing nursing home patients who receive oxygen to have cigarettes and matches or lighters isn't just lax supervision.  It's crazy!  Thankfully, only one patient died as a result of the fire.  More could easily have died or been injured.  Instead of counting our blessings, we easily could have been counting more bodies.
Robert W. Carter, Jr. is a Virginia attorney whose law practice is dedicated to protecting the rights of the victims of nursing home and assisted living neglect and abuse in Richmond, Roanoke, Norfolk, Lynchburg, Danville, Charlottesville, and across Virginia. 

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