Fitchville, OH Terrible Rest Home Fire, Nov 1963
65 ELDERLY PERSONS DIE IN FITCHVILLE REST HOME FIRE
By Dick Collier
Sixty-five elderly patients were killed and 25 injured, three seriously, in a flash fire at 4 a. m. today in the Golden Age Rest Home (formerly the Norwood Chronic Hospital) on Routes 250 and 13 about four miles north of Fitchville.
DR. W. V. HOLMAN, Huron County coroner, said it will be late today or tomorrow before the charred bodies of the dead can all be identified. Funeral directors will work with floor plans and personnel charts to try to name and number the dead.
Two nurses on duty were among the 24 persons taken to Fisher-Titus Memorial Hospital in Norwalk for treatment of burns and shock. DR. HOLMAN said three of these received second-degree burns of the face, neck and arms.
Four volunteer firemen were treated for injuries as they fought the blaze that engulfed the one-story structure. Two received burns and two were overcome by smoke.
Among the dead was HENRY PARNELL, who was for many years News-Journal correspondent in New London. PARNELL retired about two years ago.
All records and files were destroyed in roaring flames and smoke that burst open cabinets, wrecked all medical and surgical equipment, melted bedsteads and left little but smouldering ruins of the one-story brick and concrete-block structure. Their loss complicated attempts of police and funeral directors to name and number the dead.
Governor JAMES A. RHODES was reported on his way to the scene today to make a personal investigation before flying to Washington to pay his respects fo the late President KENNEDY.
RICHARD EASTMAN, director of the Eastman Funeral Home in New London, which is also New London's disaster-message center, said evidence showed many patients were trapped in their beds. A temporary morgue has been set up in the elementary school in Fitchville.
Huron County Sheriff RICHARD ANDRESS said he understood that many of the patients were elderly persons transferred from the Cleveland State Hospital about a year ago. Almost all of them were 60 or older, he said, and many were invalids.
CLIFFORD FRENCH, a student at Midwestern Baptist Seminary, Pontiac, Mich., who saw the fire while driving on his way to Wooster, told authorities a kitchen employe said the blaze was "only a trickle of flames" at first but that the 60-year-old building "went up like a tinderbox."
FRENCH said he crawled on his hands and knees in the smoke to help pull some of the patients to safety. Some elderly patients, led to safety, pathetically tried to follow rescuers back into the holocaust to help rescue their fellow patients.
New London firemen reached the scene at 5:10 a. m., North Fairfield firemen at 5:30 a. m. and Greenwich firemen a little later. Even by 5:30, New London firemen said, the flames and smoke were so thick it was impossible to rescue those who were trapped inside.
"The place was on fire from one end to the other," Chief WALTERS said.
The list of survivors, those taken to Fisher-Titus Hospital, includes:
LUCILLE ACKERMAN, MARIE BENDER, JOHN BROWN, RUTH BAATZ, LINDA BRENNAN, BONITA COGAN, MAYNARD DEINER, EMMETT EVEGE, MARY GOCOMSKI, JACOB GLASSER.
LIBBY GOLDMAN, ELSIE HELMUND, ROSS HOPKINS, VINNIE MULLEN, MRS. B. OLEH, ESTHER PLOUGH, SUSAN SAGE, BARBARA SCHMITZ, MRS. EMMA R. SCHWINEN, LYDA STRASSMAN, JULIA ZAVATKA, DORIS FRANCIS, a nurse; TENNY WIREMAN, a nurse; RUTH SHEPPARD, a nurse.
MRS. SHEPPARD is manager of the home. The owner is ROBERT POLLACK of Cleveland, who took over control about two years ago.
The fire was discovered by HENRY DAHMAN of Sarber, Pa., a truck driver bound for Michigan, who told firemen he saw flames shooting from the roof and walls of the building as he drove north along U. S. Route 250.
"The whole place was on fire," New London Volunteer Fire Chief AL WALTERS said DAHMAN told him.
DAHMAN called firemenm at 5 a. m., then rushed with his wife to the flaming building to try to help rescue its inmates. Firemen said DAHMAN used the fire extinguisher from his truck to help battle the flames while he, his wife and the two nurses on duty struggled to save as many patients as they could.
"DAHMAN called us before the rest home did," the chief said. "I believe he knew it was on fire before they discovered it themselves."
Many of the patients were overcome in their beds. Others died trying to escape the searing flames and smoke that swept through the bulding.
Firemen said the patients who managed to escape, almost all bedded in the rear of the building, came out clutching a few personal possessions and little else.
One nurse's aide, MRS. HELEN MILLER, who lives just south of the rest home on U. S. Route 250, said she heard "what sounded like a scream" at 3:30 a. m. She woke up, made a cup of coffee, and went back to bed.
Mansfield News-Journal Ohio 1963-11-23
List Of The Fatalities of the Fitchville Nursing Home Disaster:
Note: A very sad footnote, 21 unclaimed bodies were buried together in a 60' by 60' grave in Woodlawn Cemetery, Norwalk, Ohio.