Negligence probed in fire at senior home

MAEBASHI, Gunma Pref. (Kyodo) Police plan to pursue a charge of professional negligence resulting in death and injury against the operator of a nursing home in Gunma Prefecture where 10 elderly residents were killed in a fire last week, investigators said Monday.

The Gunma Prefectural Police found what appears to be a piece of a lighter, which could support an allegation that nonprofit nursing home operator Saikeikai failed to properly manage smoking by the home’s residents.

Police are investigating whether insufficient safety steps by the Tamayura nursing home in Shibukawa, coupled with the buildings’ complicated layout resulting from repeated extensions and renovations, may have exacerbated the damage caused by the fire.

According to police, the lighter fragment was found in an annex where the fire is believed to have originated and that was the most severely damaged part of the structure.

Only one staff member was on duty when the fire broke out last Thursday, police said.

Two male residents have said the facility staff provided cigarettes to some residents and that they smoked in their rooms and in the cafeteria even though the facility was supposed to be smoke-free.

An intercom system for residents to call staff in the event of an emergency was either broken or not installed in all in rooms, residents and former employees of the facility said.

According to a male resident and a former female employee, the intercom was not working in the main building while rooms for residents in two annexes were not equipped with the system.

Because of its small size, the nursing home was not required by law to have sprinklers or fire alarms. However, it was not registered with the prefecture for the purpose of providing nursing care services for the elderly. The operator was not obliged to set up an emergency intercom system.