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Fatal Fire In Hartford
February 26 2003, 6:16 AM EST
HARTFORD, Conn. -- A fire tore through a Hartford nursing home early Wednesday, killing at least 10 people and sending 20 people to hospitals, authorities said. One person was arrested, and fire officials said the fire was considered suspicious.
Matt Hennessy, an assistant to Mayor Eddie Perez, said 10 people were killed, and said nine of them had been identified. No names were immediately released.
Fire Chief Charles Teale said one person had been arrested.
"I'm not at liberty to discuss cause and origin at this time," he said. "We do have substantial leads regarding that matter. We do have someone in custody at this time."
Police Capt. Mark Pawlina said arson investigators were on the scene.
"We've got a full-court press in order to determine exactly what happened and how it happened," he said.
Teale said 20 people were hospitalized, five of them in critical condition, and over 100 were evacuated.
The fire was confined to one section of the one-story, brick Greenwood Health Center on the city's west side. Teal said the evacuation was extremely difficult because many of the victims were bedridden or confined to wheelchairs.
"Upon my arrival, it became apparent that all hands would be needed," he said. "It's not just the fire that kills, it's the smoke."
State Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, D-Hartford, said many of the residents were confused. She said one woman pleaded, "Please take me to my room. I'm cold."
One elderly woman looking for her mother ran up the street sobbing, holding her temples and yelling in broken English.
"Where is the fire, where is the fire?" she cried.
As family members arrived at the building they were ushered by police into three Connecticut Transit buses that were brought into the building's parking lot. Temperatures Wednesday morning were in the single digits.
Felix Pagan Jr., of Hartford, was looking for his 76-year-old father.
"I haven't lost hope yet, I'm just thinking positive right now," he said. "As long as they tell me he's OK, I (will) go back to bed."
Pagan works for a local ambulance company, which called him at 4 a.m. to tell him about the fire. He stood outside the nursing home, fidgeting with a pack of cigarettes.
"I think I have smoked a whole pack," he said. "I left home with a full pack and now I have to go buy more cigarettes."
St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center received eight patients, spokesman Pete Mobilia said. Three were in critical condition, one was in serious condition, one was in fair condition and one was being evaluated. Two others - both of them employees of the home - were being treated and released, Mobilia said.
One patient was transported by helicopter to the burn unit at Bridgeport Hospital, spokesman John Cappiello said.
Hartford Hospital received eight patients, spokeswoman Lee Monroe said. Two of them were being transferred to burn centers elsewhere in the state, she said.
Of the remaining patients, three were in critical condition; the conditions of the three others were not immediately available.
A spokesman for Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass., said the hospital expected to receive one victim. Keith O'Connor said the patient was suffering from severe smoke inhalation and would be treated in the hospital's hyperbaric chamber.
The first alarm was at 2:35 a.m. and followed by a second alarm at 2:40 a.m. The cause was not immediately determined.
Chris Cooper, a spokesman for Gov. John G. Rowland, said the state fire marshal and Department of Public Health were responding.
"The critical issue now is to make sure of the safety of the other patients," Cooper said.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press