November 23, 1963, marks the day that 63 elderlies died in Norwalk, Ohio, in one of the most tragic nursing home fires in our country's history. This fire was the second deadliest nursing home fire in the country, the deadliest occurred five years earlier in Missouri.
When people my age or older talk about November of 1963 our thoughts generally go to the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas Texas November 22 of that year. Fast forward two days and we think about the murder of his suspected assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald on November 24, 1963.
What happened on the day between these two events? Unfortunately, a tragedy that normally would have gripped the nation but it is largely unknown due to the events both leading up to and following that day.
November 23, 1963, marks the day that 63 elderlies died in Norwalk, Ohio, in one of the most tragic nursing home fires in our country's history.
The nursing home, formally a toy factory, had begun coming to life early that morning when a passing truck driver noticed the building was on fire. While it was reported that there was time for a full evacuation, many of the residents simply froze or retreated back to their rooms upon hearing the news. Many of the occupants were later reported to have diminished mental capacities thus adding to their confused response.
The fire was determined to have started due to electrical problem in the attic. The building had no suppression system, no alarm system and only three fire extinguishers. Heavy blowing winds caused the fire to quickly spread, burning through the telephone lines in the process, thus delaying the first report to the fire department.
The area fire department in Norwalk still was able to arrive within 15 minutes of the fire; however, the building was engulfed by this time and the flat roof had already collapsed on the remaining occupants.
While confusion may have led to many of the deaths glass block windows in rooms were reported to be a larger contributor. Residents that could have escaped out their windows were not able to due to this style window.
Firefighters searched the rubble for several days to recover all the victims, some of whom were still restrained in their beds. Over 20 of the victims were never claimed by families and were buried together in one mass grave.
This fire was the second deadliest nursing home fire in the country, the deadliest occurred five years earlier in Missouri. We will take a look at that fire next week along with the changes to fire safety codes in these type of care facilities as a direct result of these two fires.