Fire at assistant living home kills 10
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Fire at assistant living home kills 10

Date: November 27, 2006
By: Kathryn Buschman
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The long term living facility where ten 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 nursing home regulations 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. 

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

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."

"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 tragedies but I do think that we are upping the grade and trying to keep people as safe as possible," Stouffer said.

The fire broke out early Monday morning and the damage to the facility was extensive and caused the roof to collapse, Carrell said.

The fire ranks among Missouri's deadliest fires, according to the Associated Press. The last high fatality fire was in 1979 at the Wayside Inn board and care home in Farmington, which killed 25.

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 8:00 a.m.  The Anderson Guest House is a non-profit, long term nursing home for the elderly and mentally disabled. The facility has 37 licensed beds and is operated by Joplin River of Life Ministries, Inc. He also said 32 residents and two employees were in the facility at the time of the fire. 

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." 

The woman who answered the phone for Joplin River of Life Ministries, Inc. refused to answer any questions, and said she was instructed to say "no comment" to anyone calling.  

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

The governor was in Springfield Monday morning and flew to Joplin to give an on-site briefing later that afternoon. Gov. Matt Blunt said investigators are treating the scene as a crime scene even though there has been no indication of foul play.

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

The Health Department inspected the facility in March but Health Department spokesperson Nanci Gonder said no deficiencies were found related to fire safety.

According to the Health department's March survey, the inspector found the facility failed to maintain cooking pans from being free from grease accumulation. The March report also said the burners on the kitchen stove had a build-up of black debris. All the deficiencies were fixed within a month of the inspection.

"The state has the license authority and inspection authority for facilities like these," said Pat Dougherty, D-St. Louis. "Since you have both mental health and the department of health services and licenses you have both of them one for programs dealing with the mentally ill and the other one for the facility itself," said Sen. Pat Dougherty, D-St. Louis.  Dougherty also said the facility was up to date on inspections by both departments.

Another residential care facility located in Joplin and operated by Joplin River of Life Ministries, Inc., was cited by the Department of Health for a Class I notice of noncompliance in October 2003 for failure to repair a malfunctioning fire alarm system for at least two weeks without implementing a fire watch. The complaint also said facility staff placed a pencil in the reset switch to prevent the fire alarm from going off.

In Spring 2004 Joplin River of Life Ministries, Inc. was administratively dissolved by then secretary of state Matt Blunt for failure to file a correct and current annual report. The company was restored a couple months later.