Inquiry seeks to resolve tragedy of fatal care home fire

An official inquiry was today launched into the deaths of 14 residents in a tragic blaze at a Scottish nursing home in 2004. Preliminary hearings have begun in the run up to a fatal accident inquiry due to start in November.

Three failed attempts at prosecution have already been made against the former owners of Rosepark care home in Uddingston since the tragic fire, which claimed 14 lives and left four other residents with serious injuries.

Tom and Anne Balmer, and their son Alan, had dissolved the business which owned Rosepark following the fire, meaning the court was unable to hold them responsible for the accident. The controversy led Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond to call the ruling a “genuine gap” in the law, and recommend that the issue to be readdressed. (BBC News, 2009)

An official inquiry

The Crown Office intends the full inquiry to reveal the exact circumstances of the disaster for the benefit of the bereaved families of those who died, and to consider any measures which could be taken in preventing the tragedy from happening again. Suspicions about the effectiveness of the emergency warning systems in place in the care home, and the safety measures concerning such incidents will also be investigated.

(Hamilton Advertiser, 2009)

Intense blaze

Investigators found that on the night of the tragedy, around 4.30am, a small but intense fire broke out in a linen cupboard, most probably caused by an electrical fault. Despite the door to the cupboard being fire-resistant, it’s thought that the heat and smoke of the fire intensified to the point of breaking down the door, when thick black smoke began to fill the residents’ rooms.

26-year-old duty nurse Isabel Queen was questioned following the fire, concerned with suspicions that the fire alarm system had been faulty. Ms Queen reported that at the first sound of the alarm, the system showed the area at risk to be the downstairs rooms – when in fact the fire had broken out on the first floor.

(The Scotsman, 3/02/04)

Fatal false alarm

Ms Queen described how, after checking the downstairs areas first indicated on the alarm system and finding no evidence of an outbreak, she went back and silenced the fire alarm. However, staff started to realise something was really wrong when the alarm immediately began to sound again, this time displaying the correct location of the blaze – the upstairs zone where the linen cupboard was. Isabel and her colleagues pushed open the first fire door and were immediately confronted with choking black smoke.

The staff began the struggle to evacuate the patients, some of whom had to be carried out in the arms of the carers; others were led out in wheelchairs or helped out on foot (The Scotsman, 4/02/04). Ms Queen explained that it was “extremely difficult” to get the elderly residents out, as the staff couldn’t see through the thick smoke; she added “you could feel it in your lungs, there was no way we could have got through.”

(BBC News, 2004)

‘Freak occurrence’

The 14 elderly women and men whose lives were claimed by the blaze all died as a result of severe smoke and toxic fume inhalation. While disputes of liability continue, concerns voiced in the wake of the incident, that sprinklers fitted in the home might have averted or moderated the blaze, were thrown out by Joe Campbell, the head of Scotland’s care homes organization. Perhaps it is Campbell’s account which best expresses both the deep sadness felt by all, and the difficult legal legacy the Rosepark fire has left behind; that this was “a freak and tragic occurrence,” (BBC News, 2004).

View All