Edgeville Buzz

Remembering Edgewater’s Worst Fire And the 23 Elderly Victims Who Perished

It was a cold day on Friday, January 30, 1976 when one of the worst fires in Chicago history broke out at the four-story Wincrest Nursing Home at 6326 N. Winthrop Ave. in Edgewater.  In the end 23 elderly residents, most wheelchair bound, sadly lost their lives but the tragedy would help change procedures in nursing homes throughout nation.

The fire started on the third floor of the building in a wardrobe closet in room 306. A nurse discovered the blaze and quickly pulled the fire alarm around 11:30 a.m. Fire fighters arrived soon after to find staff and residents evacuating the building. At the time of the fire there was around 100 people in the building, 83 whom were residents.

According to reports, a mass was being conducted in the third floor chapel during the incident. The priest left prayer and tried to put out the blaze with a fire extinguisher with no luck. He closed the door to the room which helped contain the blaze, however heavy smoke billowed into the hallway and quickly engulfed the area. The fire’s toxic gas entered the rooms with open doors of elderly patients. Because most of the residents were in wheel chairs, they were unable to escape and all the victims died of smoke inhalation.

Fire fighters extinguished the fire by 1:30 p.m. and had contained the smoke to the third and fourth floors. Though the building was equipped with a manual and automatic fire alarm system that is connected directly to the fire alarm office of the Chicago Fire Department, the building was not equipped with a water sprinkler system.

It was reported that a window that was left open during the fire prevented much of the smoke from entering the chapel and lounge area where about 28 of the residents were located. This was cited as a crucial factor in preventing additional casualties.

An investigation made by the Chicago Police Department and fire department led to an arrest of a housekeeper with an arson history. That person however, was eventually acquitted by a jury.

The incident led to major changes in Chicago nursing homes and around the nation including installation of  sprinkler systems connected to a fire alarm system in all new and existing nursing homes, requiring emergency training for all nursing home staff,  background checks on all nursing home employees and stricter smoking guidelines.

In 2011, Wincrest was faced with losing their medicaid funding after state and federal inspections had reported residents engaged in fights and rampant drug abuse. With community pressure on the nursing home, Wincrest eventually sold the property to Loyola University and was torn down in 2012.

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