Fountaintown, IN Nursing Home Fire Disaster, Dec 1964

AT LEAST 20 BELIEVED DEAD IN BLAZE AT NURSING HOME

9 Bodies Found, 15 Are Rescued

By Hortense Myers
Fountaintown, Ind. (UPI) -- Fire swept through a small country nursing home before dawn today and authorities estimated at least 20 elderly patients were killed.
The temperature was 3 degrees above zero. Firemen had to break through the ice of nearby Brandywine Creek, to get water to fight the flames.
Nine persons were known dead in the flames which consumed the two-story, white frame Maples Convalescent Home, located at the edge of this hamlet of 250 persons. Fountaintown is 10 miles southeast of Indianapolis.
Fire departments from villages throughout Indiana countryside fought the blaze. The water in their pumper trucks gave out and they had to go to the creek.
The towering flames of the tragic fire could be seen five miles away. Nurses staggered from the building carrying aged patients. The ones who survived were sleeping on the first floor. Those on the second floor died, firemen said.
KENNY PURBERS, one of the first men on the scene, said, "a nurse told me 'The kitchen's on fire and the hall's on fire.' She was hysterical. She couldn't talk."
MAX McGRAW, who has owned and operated the home for 10 years, gasped "I couldn't stand to stay over there. They were my family."
McGRAW said there were 34 patients, a fulltime nurse and two nurse's aides in the home when the fire broke out. Nine bodies were removed from the rubble before dawn. Fifteen persons were rescued and treated for shock, exposure and smoke inhalation.
Firemen feared the missing persons had died in the flames. They hesitated to fix a firm death estimate in the hope that some persons had escaped through side entrances.
The blaze broke out shortly before 3 a.m. EST and engulfed the rest home almost immediately.
State troopers RICHARD WESTLAKE and RONALD WHITE were the first officers on the scene. They and the nurses helped first floor patients through flames and smoke out the front and side doors.
Hope for the rest vanished within minutes. Although McGRAW said the 10 patients on the upper floors were able to walk, it appeared none had a chance to survive.
Deputy Sheriff JIM BOGEMAN, who watched the building burn, said there were no cries or screams.
"I never heard a thing, but the blazing fire," he said.
Reported missing in the McGRAW Nursing Home fire is MRS. HATTIE KIRKPATRICK, an aunt of C. V. WINDSOR, RR 4. MRS. KIRKPATRICK, a patient at the home, was included in a list of residents not accounted for.
The fire was out by dawn. One wall was standing. The twisted shapes of iron bedsteads rose out of the smudged snow. A Christmas tree on the front portico was encrusted in ice.
McGRAW, who was in a state of shock, said his patients had come from all over the country. Some were as old as 90. All were elderly.
Fire Chief CARLOS JEFFRIES said that the nursing home had always been inspected carefully.
"MAX McGRAW operated a very nice nursing home and to the best of my knowledge complied with all of the regulations," he said.
Sheriff ED GILMOUR who was in charge of the investigation, said the cause of the fire had not been determined. There were unconfirmed reports that it had started in a closet.
McGRAW, who was in a state of shock, said his patients had come from all over the country. Some were as old as 90. All were elderly. He said they enjoyed sitting on the home's tree-shaded lawn, watching the busy traffic on U.S. 52 or looking across the Indiana farmland.
The rest home was one of the principal buildings in Fountaintown. It stood on a slight incline on the edge of town. As it burned to the ground, most of the town's population stood in the cold, watching silently and helplessly.
Fire Chief CARLOS JEFFRIES said that the nursing home had always been inspected carefully.
"MAX McGRAW operated a very nice nursing home and to the best of my knowledge complied with all of the regulations," he said.
Sheriff EDGEHILL MOORE, who was in charge of the investigation, said the cause of the fire had not been determined. There were unconformed[sic] reports that it had started in a closet.
It was Indiana's second major tragedy in a little more than a year. On Oct. 31, 1963, in nearby Indianapolis, an explosion at the State Fair grounds Coliseum killed 74 persons at an ice show.
The fire broke out as the patients, most of them bedfast, slept on two floors of the two-story white frame structure located at the intersection of two highways just east of Fountaintown.
WHITE, of the Connersville post, who was patrolling roads in the area, said a nurse's aide was helping infirm patients to safety through the front door of the blazing house when he arrived. He identified her as MRS. MYRTLE DONAHUE.
"I helped all I could," WHITE said. "That nurse did a real wonderful job. I don't think any of them except maybe one could walk. We put the people in cars and then transferred them to ambulances. They were just shocked. It was so cold."
MRS. DONAHUE was taken to a hospital suffering from shock.
WHITE said three nurse's aids were on night duty.
WHITE said 15 were rescued. He said he helped place 11 of them in two cars and two pickup trucks at the scene to shield them from the bitter cold until ambulances came, and four others were taken to a nearby fire station.
HOWARD BOEGAHOLTZ, an investigator for the state fire marshal's office, arrived at the scene within a short time from his home at Edinburg to seek the cause of the blaze. BOEGAHOLTZ said the nursing home was last inspected by state officials last June 15 and given a top rating for use for 35 patients.
McGRAW said, however, that only 34 inmates were there when the fire occurred.
Fountaintown Fire Chief CARLOS JEFFRIES praised MRS. DONAHUE as a heroine for "outstanding" efforts to save the trapped oldsters.
Brandywine, the creek from which firemen drew water to fight the flames, was made famous by Hoosier poet JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY. "The Old Swimmin' Hole" which he made famous in verse was on Brandywine about eight miles from Fountaintown near his hometown of Greenfield.
Authorities said the fire probably started in a small closet in a hallway on the ground floor, according to state police. The closet contained bedding and medical supplies.
A temporary morgue was expected to be established at the Murphy Funeral Home at Shelbyville, where most of the bodies were taken.

Fountaintown, Ind. (UPI) -- Names of dead and persons unaccounted for in the nursing home fire today as listed by state police and the coroner's office:

Dead:
AMELIA LAMB

Missing:
GEORGE KUNTZ
GEORGE CURRY
JAMES HERBEY
EDWARD TAYLOR
EMERSON THOMPSON
EZRA JACOB
JOE GLASCOCK
ISAAC FOOS
BERT COX
JOHN HOLT
PEARL WARD
EFFIE HARTLEY
EDNA MACY
ALICE DAILEY
HATTIE KIRKPATRICK
PHOEBE DRAPER
FLORENCE MILLER
MARY POOLER
HENRY PALMER

Fountaintown, Ind. (UPI) -- Survivors in the convalescent home fire here today:

At relative's home:
HENRY DENNERNAN

At Shelbyville Hospital:
PEARL LEWIS
PEARL DAVIS
MAUDE McCUTCHEON
HAZEL ELLIS
GLADYS KENNEDY
ARMIE LEWIS
GRACE ELROD
BERNICE McLANE
CORA MORASKA
SARA SHEETS
MAUDE COPPLE
OPAL LOGGINS
BEN MAHAN

The Anderson Daily Bulletin Indiana 1964-12-18