Cicero, IL Nursing Home Fire, Feb 1976


Chicago (UPI) -- CHARLIE AMBROZ, 65, wheeled
his wheelchair through the smoke-filled corridor at Cermak House Nursing Home, helplessly watching his fellow patients die and racing for safety himself.
Fire and smoke, apparently caused by a faulty wire on a table lamp, claimed the lives Wednesday of six persons, including a 23-year-old blind woman confined to a wheelchair.
At least 27 others, most of them elderly patients of the suburban Cicero home, were injured, one seriously.
AMBROZ said he was awakened by a nurse and told of the blaze.
"I got into a wheelchair all by myself and wheeled myself into the hall," he said. "I got scared. I could see people dying around me, screaming for help."
"The smoke was so thick I could not see faces nor five feet in front of me."
It was the second nursing home tragedy in the Chicago area in five days. A nurse's aide, DENISE WATSON, pleaded innocent Wednesday
to charges of murder and arson stemming from Friday's fire that killed 15 elderly persons and injured 27 others at Wincrest Nursing and Rest Home on Chicago's North Side.
In both cases, it was smoke -- not the flames -- that took lives.
The Cermak House fire broke out in a fourth-floor room of the nine-story nursing home.
"When firemen arrived, flames were coming out of the doorway (to the room) and the door had burned off," Cicero Fire Marshal Joseph Geriba said.
"It was so identical to the Wincrest fire you couldn't tell the difference if you were to compare the two," Geriba said.
Relatives of some of the home's 470 patients milled outside in temperatures in the mid-teens, waiting for word on the fate of loved ones.
Investigators said a faulty cord on a table lamp apparently was responsible for the blaze.
Mayor Richard Daley said Wednesday he will ask the City Council to approve an ordinance requiring
sprinkler systems in all Chicago nursing homes. There were no sprinklers at the Wincrest home and authorities said only the first floor at Cermak had such a system.

Logansport Pharos-Tribune and Press Indiana 1976-02-05