The Golden Age Nursing Home fire took place soon after 4:45 am on November 23, 1963, a mile north of Fitchville, Ohio, USA, killing 63 residents. The fire, which was featured in the 2006 documentary Fireland by Justin Zimmerman, has largely been forgotten since it came in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
The blaze began so quickly that an attempt to call the local fire department proved fruitless when the facility's telephone wires were burned. A call from a truck driver, Henry Dahman, who was passing through the rural area between Cleveland and Toledo quickly brought local officials, but strong winds helped to envelop the one-story building in flames. Two other truck drivers also helped bring out residents from the facility.
The building's owner, Robert W. Pollack, indicated that many of the residents could have been saved had they not panicked. "Instead of going out the doors, they went back to their beds," said Pollack. However, the facility had an undivided attic and no automatic sprinkler system. It had three portable fire extinguishers but no local manual fire alarm.
The three employees who were present and 21 residents survived. The remains of 21 residents not claimed by family members were buried in a single gravesite on November 29.
The L-shaped, concrete block, one-story building had passed inspection the previous March. (The facility also had a 2-room addition that was made of wood, aluminum siding and plywood paneling. Twenty-two residents lived in the addition.) In late 1962, patients who were not considered mentally ill had been transferred there after being removed from the Cleveland State Hospital.
The fire was the United States' deadliest blaze since the December 1958 fire at Chicago's Our Lady of the Angels School that killed 95 people. It also marked the second fire in less than a week involving the elderly, following the November 18 disaster that claimed 25 people at the Surfside Hotel in Atlantic City.
- Filmmaker sifts through ashes of tragedy, The Columbus Dispatch, March 28, 2006 (accessed May 28, 2006)
- Fire Protection: Infamous Fires, Part II, Mark Bromann in PM Engineer (magazine), February 10, 2006 (accessed May 28, 2006)
- A Description of Organizational Activities In the Fitchville, Ohio Nursing Home Fire, authored by Anderson, William A. and Quarantelli, E. L., August 3, 1964, for the Disaster Research Center, Office of Civil Defense, Office of the Secretary of the Army. Reference is to the archive at the University of Delaware Institutional Repository Library (accessed May 28, 2006)
- Documentary: Fireland by Justin Zimmerman and Bricker-Down Productions.
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