Officials Investigate Blaze at Missouri Group Home
As a deadly fire roared through a group home early Monday in Anderson, Mo., neighbors in the small town rushed to help. Now many are questioning whether enough was done to protect residents at Anderson Guest House, a group home for the elderly and mentally ill.
Monday's fire killed 10 people -- including one staff member. The home's management included a convicted felon, whose company was cited for fire-code violations at another property. Federal and state officials are investigating the cause of the fire.
Anderson is a quiet, working-class, former railroad town squeezed between the tracks and the highway in the Southwest Missouri Ozarks. Normally the trains are the loudest sound at night. But early Monday morning, all that changed.
Steven Spears lives next to door to what use to be the Anderson Guest House. "I saw a blast of fire come out the front end of this building, through one of though one of the front doors there," he says.
Neighbor Dawn Rolfe says she heard screams and saw flames light up the sky. She rushed to tend elderly and mentally disabled patients staggering out of the smoke, their pajamas covered in soot.
"It was very confusing for them," Rolfe says. "They didn't know where their family was and they were worried about their friends inside the facility."
She adds, "Most of them had very little clothing. I heard them saying 'My wallet, all my money I had, all my clothes, my pictures, my pictures are gone.'"
Volunteer medics and firefighters from Anderson and surrounding towns streamed in to help.
Despite their efforts, nine residents died and the remaining 23 people living at the home required various levels of medical treatment. One staff member died trying to help residents. The only other staff member on duty at 1 a.m. was rushed to the hospital.
Monday afternoon, federal and state agents pawed through piles of smoldering black debris, corralled by crumbling, soot-stained white concrete block walls. Investigators aren't saying whether they suspect arson or whether they believe Monday's blaze is related to a small fire set in one of the residents' rooms Saturday.
Regardless of the cause, the fact that the blaze killed so many people raises questions for Phyllis Krambeck of the Missouri Coalition for Quality Care. She says she's also troubled that Robert Dupont, the man in charge of the company that runs Anderson Guest House, was convicted of Medicaid fraud three years ago. He was sentenced to serve 21 months in Leavenworth Penitentiary.
"I just don't think that people like that should be allowed to continue in any capacity in the nursing home industry," Krambeck says.
In 2003, state inspectors reviewing another home operated by Robert Dupont's company, found that a pencil had been jammed into a fire alarm there to keep two broken pull stations from setting it off. The Anderson Guest House cleared a state inspection last spring. Food-service and lighting violations were noted, but there was no mention of any violations related to fire safety.
Missouri state police questioned Robert Dupont on Monday.
The town of Anderson is mourning the deaths.
Hayley Brashear, who works at a nearby drive-in, remembers one person from the Anderson Guest House, a man she knew only as "Don." She says she fears that he died in the fire. "He was very, very talkative and really friendly. He would always ask for a small Coke or a small coffee, and we'd usually give him one for free."
Investigators must now determine whether the managers of the home did everything they should have to protect staff and residents.
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