PHILADELPHIA (CN) — A woman whose parents burned to death in a nursing home fire claims in court that enforcement of the nonsmoking policy could have prevented the carnage.
Represented by the firm McEldrew Young, Kathryn McGill brought her suit seven months after the Nov. 21 fire at the Barclay Friends Senior Living Community claimed the lives of her parents, Thomas and Delores Parker.
“The inferno spread unchecked and uncontrolled, and roared through the Woolman Building’s Personal Care wing, where Thomas and Delores Parker were trapped alone in their rooms on the second floor,” says the complaint, filed on June 12 in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.
“The fire gutted the entire two-story personal care unit.
“Unable to escape, Mr. and Mrs. Parker suffered gruesome, agonizing and lonely deaths.”
The Parkers were 92 and 89, respectively, and both suffered from dementia.
McGill notes that two other tenants, 85-year-old Theresa Malloy and 93-year-old Mildred Gadde also died in the fire, which injured another 27 of the building’s 137 residents.
McGill notes that smoking was supposed to be barred at the facility because some residents were on supplemental oxygen therapy. Nevertheless it was a lit cigarette, tossed by a Barclays employee into a patio trashcan containing combustible materials, that triggered the fire at approximately 10:45 p.m.
“Four days later, the remains of Thomas and Delores Parker were excavated from the rubble inside the charred shell of their former home,” the complaint states.
The 48-page complaint recounts a host of design and maintenance failures that allowed the blaze to become deadly.
Noting that it took in excess of 400 emergency responders to battle the 50-foot blaze, McGill says recording from the inferno indicate that firefighters did not have sufficient water pressure at the scene to battle the blaze.
“We need more water pressure, if you can … we are not really getting anything …. Tell [Aqua] it is a priority of urgency,” firefighters had told dispatchers, as quoted in the complaint (ellipses and brackets in original).
As precious time to save lives ticked away, emergency responders ended up having to pump in water from a nearby hospital, the complaint states.
A representative from Aqua America, which supplied the internal and external water service for Barclay’s fire protection systems, declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing company policy on pending litigation.
The Bryn Mawr-based company is named as a defendant alongside the Barclay Friends, the Kendal Corporation, SimplexGrinnell LP and various engineering firms.
McGill notes that an investigation after the tragedy revealed that the main valve in the home’s sprinkler system had been fully shut off at the time of the fire, disallowing water from passing through the system even after it was triggered.
But the company had reportedly announced plans just a few weeks before the blaze to upgrade Barclay’s water main to a larger one that would “improve firefighting capabilities in the area,” according to the complaint.
McGill alleges that their failure to carry out their plans in time contributed to her parents’ death.
The building’s alarms were also not loud enough to provide reasonable notice of emergency to a building that housed mostly elderly dementia patients who were both physically and mentally capable of a speedy response to a dire situation, the complaint alleges.
Another failing described in the complaint is the building’s lack of the “half-inch fire-retardant gypsum board” required by its architectural blueprints.
McGill contends that a thicker wall would have slowed the spread of the fire and allowed her parents more time to make the climb down the flight of stairs leading them to safety.
She says the nursing home staff was no help, leaving her parents “to burn to death in their rooms … instead of implementing an evacuation plan.”
McGill notes that her parents’ survivors include another daughter, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
A spokeswoman for Barclay Friends declined to comment, noting that they have not received a new lawsuit related to the fire.
“We continue to fully cooperate with federal, state and local investigators,” the spokeswoman added.
Representatives for Barclay’s co-defendants all failed to return emails and phone calls seeking comment.