Marshal: Group home lacked sprinklers

Lack of system at facility where fire killed 10 was legal, a state senator says.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:53 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — The long-term living facility where 10 people were killed and 24 people were injured in southwest Missouri, did not have a sprinkler system, according to State Assistant Fire Marshal Greg Carrell.

But the state senator who sponsored a bill that tightened regulations for residential care facilities said the facility’s lack of a sprinkler system is legal. Last legislative session the General Assembly passed a bill toughening requirements for different levels of residential care facilities.

“Under the assisted living bill that we just passed to move up to that level, you have to sprinkle the building,” said state Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Clay County.

Stouffer said the facility was following the rules.

“They chose not to; in fact, there was a letter that they had submitted that they chose not to go to the assisted living so they will remain as residential care II, which is allowed in the bill. But in the new law, if you are going to be in assisted living you do have to sprinkle.”

He added: “Something like this is tragic, but when you have a group of people — I don’t care if it is a college dorm or a hospital or whatever — and you have a fire, sometimes there is going to be a tragedy. But I do think that we are upping the grade and trying to keep people as safe as possible.”

The fire broke out early Monday morning, damaging the facility extensively and causing its roof to collapse, Carrell said.

The fire ranks among Missouri’s deadliest, according to The Associated Press. The last high-fatality fire occurred in 1979, killing 25 people at the Wayside Inn board and care home in Farmington.

Carrell said the fire department was called to The Anderson House in Anderson around 1 a.m. and was still working to put out “hot spots” at 8 a.m. The Anderson Guest House is a nonprofit, long-term nursing home for elderly and mentally disabled people. The facility had 37 licensed beds and is operated by Joplin River of Life Ministries Inc. At the time of the fire, Carrell said, 32 residents and two employees were in the facility.

Carrell said the individuals living in the facility were all adults.

“They were all ambulatory and able to evacuate without assistance from staff according to criteria,” Carrell said.

The woman who answered the phone for Joplin River of Life Ministries declined to comment on the fire.

A smaller fire broke out Saturday morning at The Anderson Guest House but no one was injured, Carrell said. Authorities are trying to determine whether the fires were linked.

Joplin River of Life Ministries was founded created in March 2002 and is privately owned. The Anderson Guest House is licensed by the state Department of Health and Senior Services and the state Department of Mental Health.

The Health Department inspected the facility in March but department spokeswoman Nanci Gonder said it found no deficiencies relating to fire safety.

In March, a report by the Health Department found that the facility failed to prevent the accumulation of grease on cooking pans. The report also said the kitchen stove burners had a black build-up. All deficiencies were fixed within a month.

Sen. Pat Dougherty, D-St. Louis, said the facility was up to date on inspections by both departments.

Another residential care facility in Joplin, operated by Joplin River of Life Ministries Inc. was also cited by the Health Department for failing to repair a malfunctioning fire alarm system for at least two weeks without implementing a fire watch.

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