On February 17, 1957, a fire broke out in a two-story nursing home facility at 2:40 p.m. during a Sunday church service; this fire would take 70 lives. Reports say that the fire started in a linen closet and the cause of the fire is still unknown today.

Last week we took a look at a fire that, due other issues in the country, pretty much went unnoticed. Six years prior to that fire there was one even more tragic, and it was located in Warrenton, Mo.

On February 17, 1957, a fire broke out in a two-story nursing home facility at 2:40 p.m. during a Sunday church service; this fire would take 70 lives. Reports say that the fire started in a linen closet and the cause of the fire is still unknown today.

The fire was originally investigated as arson as, ironically, the sister of the home's manager had managed a similar facility in Hillsboro that suffered a fire where 18 people had died five years earlier. However, after the investigation it is believed to have been a combination of faulty wiring with wood that had dried over the previous 50 years.

Once reported the fire spread quickly and by the time the fire department arrived there was little that could be done to extinguish the fire. Like the previous fire, many of the victims were either locked in their rooms and or strapped to their beds thus not allowing them the possibility to escape. The roof collapsed causing the first floor to collapse into the basement; subsequently it took days of rubble being removed for all 70 victims to be recovered from the ruins.

The building had recently passed a fire inspection by the local volunteer fire department in addition to a state inspection. While the building passed both inspections, the state did call for the wiring to be inspected by a qualified electrician. Despite these two inspections being done and noted as “passing” the home was operating without a license, there were no sprinklers, fire alarms, enclosed exit stairwells, outside fire escapes, emergency lighting, and there were no fire drills or fire safety plan informing occupants how evacuate in the event of a fire.

To give you an idea of how homes were thought of back in the 50’s and 60’s, while doing research for this article I came across several media reports that called the occupants of the home “inmates”. As you read these accounts of people being locked in their rooms and strapped to their beds with windows that do not open, while it may not have been a prison, for those poor souls it had to feel like one.

As a result of this fire the Governor of the Missouri quickly signed a bill that created minimum safety standards for nursing homes. Blair signed legislation enacting the Nursing Home Licensing Law, tightening nursing home regulations, mandated inspections, and placing harsh penalties in the law for non-compliance.

This nursing home fire was the third of its kind in the state in slightly more than four years. Twelve persons lost their lives in a rest home fire in Puxico the previous year and 18 died in the fall of 1952 in Hillsboro. The Governor was quoted as saying “the animals in the field take better care of their own”.

Even today some 60 years later, the debate over fire sprinklers still exist.