Sixty years ago, on December 8, 1961, 16 people were killed in a fire at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut.  This fire, which began when someone dumped smoldering cigarette ashes down a trash chute, resulted in many code changes related to health care facilities.  While I think many of us now take fire safety in health care facilities for granted, this was not always the case.  The video below gives a great overview of the events of that day (including the effects of the 8-foot-wide fire door and the patient-room roller latches), and discusses some of the code changes that resulted.

From Employees, patients, and visitors who decided to close themselves in patient rooms blocked gaps under doors with wet linens to prevent asphyxiation. If they managed to do this before shifting pressure pushed open their rolling door latches, they survived. Anyone running out of their room, opening doors along the way, inadvertently spread smoke and heat.

In the aftermath of the fire, officials began updating the Connecticut Safety Code by limiting smoking and banning flammable building materials in hospitals. The Hartford Hospital underwent a $600,000 fire safety renovation that became a model for other hospitals in the state. This included the disconnection of trash holding cans from corridors, the upgrade of cumbersome single-piece fire doors to double doors, the installation of an emergency intercom system, and the elimination of dead-end hallways longer than 15 feet. In addition, Hartford Hospital formed a fire safety committee and employees underwent fire protection training. To this day the hospital exceeds the Connecticut Fire Code requirements, aware of the devastating consequences that come from being unprepared.


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