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[Deaths, Disturbances,Disasters, and Disorders in Chicago]
Compiled by Ellen O'Brien and Lyle Benedict, Reference Librarians in CPL's Municipal Reference Collection

1976, January 30: Wincrest Nursing Home Fire

On Friday, January 30, 1976, a fire started in a plywood wardrobe at the Wincrest Nursing home, 6326 N. Winthrop. The initial alarm sounded at 11:43 a.m.; the fire was struck out at 1:28 p.m. Total damage from fire, smoke and water was relatively minor, but the death toll reached 23, most of the elderly patients dying from smoke inhalation. 

The building was modern, well built and well operated. It had received no major health code violations and no violations from either the Building or Fire Departments. (The fire was ultimately determined to be incendiary in origin and a 21 year-old temporary housekeeper was eventually charged with multiple counts of murder by arson.)

The investigation showed no evidence of panic during the fire. Evacuation time was lost when nursing home personnel first attempted to put out the blaze on their own. In the heavy black smoke patients were unable to escape from the fire floor on their own and moving wheel chair patients down available stairs proved difficult. Consequently, the casualty rate was high.

In the aftermath of the fire, one of the worst of its kind in Chicago, a special panel was convened to investigate the fire. It recommended a number of changes to be enacted by the Board of Health and to the Building and Fire Codes. The recommendations required sprinkler systems to be installed in all new and existing nursing homes and for water flow alarms on the sprinkler system to be electrically interconnected with the fire alarm system.
  Report of the Investigation of the Wincrest Nursing Home          
     Fire on January 30, 1976.
  "Prepared by the special panel      
     appointed by Mayor Richard J. Daley"  (available online)
  MRC clipping file:  
    Fires--Chicago 1976
    Chicago Municipal Code Title 15-60-030
 Released 1996; Last Updated: 05/2001

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