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Burned Retirement Home Unlicensed Since 1988

March 6, 1991

DENVER (AP) _ The state says it knew for more than two years about safety violations at a retirement home where nine people died in a fire but allowed it to stay open while its application was reviewed.

A part owner said all safety problems had been fixed and a letter was on the way to the Colorado Department of Health when the fire occurred Monday in Colorado Springs.

Seven residents remained hospitalized Tuesday.

Joel Kohn, interim executive director of the state Health Department, said Tuesday that increased investigations by his staff probably would not have prevented the fire. Fire investigators said Monday they suspected the blaze was caused by a furnace flue pipe in the attic.

″Ironically, it appears to be the case that the inspection issue was moot because the facility was in compliance at the time of the fire,″ Kohn told a news conference.

Also on Tuesday, Gov. Roy Romer said his office was looking into the fire. ″I want to make certain that we are doing everything we possibly can to make certain that this kind of tragedy is not repeated,″ Romer said.

Officials said the Crystal Springs Estate retirement home had been allowed to operate without a state license since 1988, when new owners took over and applied for a license. Their application had never been approved, in part because of disputes over safety.

In the most recent state inspection, in September 1990, inspectors found ″smoke detectors ... not wired into the electrical system.″

The health department also ordered that detectors be installed in hallways and common areas of the one-story building.

The latter order had been repeated in inspection reports since 1989 and was not heeded, according to the reports.

But the department’s health facilities division did not threaten to close the home, as it could under state law, to force compliance.

Paul Daraghy, director of the health facilities division of the health department, said allowing the home to remain open was a judgment call made by the state.

″These people who live in these types of facilities are generally not the kind who can afford nursing homes,″ Daraghy said. ″And the alternative is out on the street.″

Personal care boarding homes are required to be licensed by the state, but they can remain open while their application for a license is reviewed, said Sue Rehak, also of the health facilities division.

″Their application is active,″ so the home was operating legally, Rehak said.

James Sanner, part owner of the retirement home, said all safety problems had been fixed and that a letter was on its way to the health facilities division when the fire occurred.

He said he decided to go ahead and install the extra smoke detectors after a waiver was denied. He said they were installed last week. Colorado Springs Deputy Fire Chief Terry Gladin said his department inspected the facility in August 1990 and found no city violations. He said existing fire alarms were sufficient to warn employees there was a fire.

″There was nothing that a thousand more detectors could have done,″ he said.

Gladin said sprinklers would have saved at least some lives.

The health department granted a waiver from state law to the previous operators of the facility, exempting them from a requirement that sprinklers be installed in living areas. There was a sprinkler system in the basement and kitchen.

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