The Overland Park group home where a fire last month sent six residents to the hospital has been cited for violating several state fire regulations.
The March 22 fire caused an estimated $100,000 damage to the home in the 14100 block of Parkhill Street, and the Kansas state fire marshal determined it was accidentally set as a result of careless smoking.
One of the violations noted by inspectors after the fire was that there were no ashtrays in the designated smoking area outside the house, and there was no written smoking policy available for review by inspectors.
The fire marshal’s office also noted that there were discarded cigarette butts on the ground and in mulching material at the rear of the residence.
That was the area where the fire originated, according to the Overland Park Fire Department.
An attorney for Life Centers of Kansas, the operator of the home for developmentally disabled adults, said Thursday that the proper types of cigarette butt receptacles had been supplied prior to the fire, and the operators don’t know why they were not there after the fire.
Life Centers is licensed by the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services to operate group homes, according to a spokeswoman for the agency. The company operates several homes in Johnson County.
Its attorney, Chris Pickering, said the operators follow state fire safety requirements, including having an alarm system and strobe lights that activate with the alarm.
They also follow requirements to conduct testing of the alarm system, including smoke sensitively testing, and conduct regular evacuation drills. The results of those tests and drills are required to be posted at the home for inspection along with a written safety plan.
In its post-fire inspection, the fire marshal’s office said that testing documentation was not posted for review by inspectors.
Pickering said the proper notices had been posted, but were removed after the fire. He said Life Centers has provided those documents to investigators as well as pictures of the places without smoke damage on the wall where they had been.
The fire marshal report also said that self-closing doors leading from bedrooms to an interior hallway were not closed as required, but were found propped open after the fire.
Pickering said the doors had been closed at the time of the fire, and Life Centers didn’t know who had propped them open.
Because the home is not equipped with a sprinkler system, the state requires that during fire drills, all occupants must be safely evacuated within three minutes.
In its documentation on previous fire drills, Life Centers reported that all evacuations had been completed in less than two minutes.
But the fire marshal reported that on March 22, complete evacuation took longer than the proscribed three minutes.
When Overland Park firefighters arrived at the fire scene, they said that four residents had already gotten out, but firefighters had to go in and rescue two others who were found on the second floor.
One of the residents was taken to a hospital in critical condition. Another was hospitalized in serious condition. Four others were treated for less serious injuries.
All of the men have been released from the hospital, according to a spokeswoman for Overland Park Regional Medical Center.
The fire marshal’s office had conducted an inspection less than a month before the fire. That Feb. 28 inspection noted no “deficiencies.”
A spokesman for the office said the two inspections were for different reasons.
The earlier one was to approve previously submitted building plans. The post-fire inspection was to see if procedures were followed and if the home complied with all fire codes, the spokesman said. It was the post-fire inspections that found safety code violations.
Pickering said that Life Centers has complied with every safety requirement dictated by the fire marshal’s office.
“There has never been a situation that they have said something needed to be done and Life Centers has not done it,” he said.
Liz Bartow, whose son was one of the residents treated after the fire, said she has “nothing but respect” for the operators of Life Centers.
Bartow said she previously witnessed a fire drill at the house and was impressed by how professionally and efficiently it was conducted.
“The boys feel very safe there,” she said.
The state fire marshal found the following violations during an inspection March 22:
▪ No annual fire alarm documentation available at the home for review.
▪ Ramps installed at the entrance from the attached garage and the rear exit of the home were not included in the submitted floor plan, and no documentation was submitted for the modifications.
▪ There was no documentation at the home of required sensitivity tests of smoke detectors.
▪ During the March 22 fire, evacuation took more than the required three minutes, resulting in the need for rescue.
▪ There was no documentation for emergency procedures available.
▪ No ashtrays in the smoking area.
▪ Cigarette butts on the ground and in combustible mulch.
▪ No smoking policy available.
▪ Bedroom doors were propped open with rubber wedges, a trashcan, a tool bag and a flashlight.