Elderly man dies in fire started by cigarette
Staff at a Putaruru rest home are in shock after an elderly resident was burnt to death after dropping a cigarette on himself.
Hamilton police have launched an investigation in to the death, which occurred at the Cardrona Resthome and Hospital about 3.30pm on Saturday.
Executive nurse manager Katherine McLeod said she believed the man – a 71-year-old resident – had fallen asleep while smoking, setting his clothing alight in the process.
He had been a resident of Cardrona for a number of years and was understood to be depend- ant on assistance from staff to get around.
He suffered extensive burns to his head and torso and died later in Waikato Hospital.
The man is believed to have been smoking in a designated area on the rest home grounds at the time of the accident.
He was wearing day clothes, not pyjamas at the time of the accident. ‘‘Staff were alerted by the smell (of the fire),’’ Ms McLeod said. ‘‘I was not here but I assume it was pretty horrible.’’ She said staff put out the fire and immediately administered CPR and first aid.
‘‘We are all sad about what has happened. We are very, very gutted, we all knew him very well and his family. She was not sure whether any residents had witnessed the accident.
‘‘I am just working out who was there at the time, but I am unsure. I don’t know if there are any smokers who were out there at the time.’’
Debriefings had been held yesterday, ‘‘ allowing residents to mourn, grieve the loss’’ Ms McLeod told South Waikato News.
‘‘We have allowed everyone to speak and there has been counselling.
‘‘I have been spoken to also. This is the first day of planning, but we are going to hold a service this week at the home.’’
She was satisfied staff had reacted appropriately when the accident happened.
‘‘Staff responded at the time according to our policies and procedures. The woman from St John
said that the staff acted appropriately.’’
There was no damage to any of the buildings and there were ‘‘staff around’’ at the time of the accident, Ms McLeod said.
Detective Sergeant Ricky Thompson of Hamilton CIB said while police were investigating the incident, they were not looking for anyone else. The man’s name has not been released.
Fire Service fire investigation and arson reduction manager Peter Wilding said such accidents were rare, with statistics showing cigarettes responsible for one fire death a year in the past four years.
A glowing cigarette on a woollen jumper would be unlikely to ignite, but a cotton shirt could have been a contributing factor in the Putaruru case, Mr Wilding said.
‘‘If [the burning cigarette] is up against something easily combustible and there’s some- thing blowing on it and the heat can’t get away easily it can well lead to ignition.’’
‘‘The risk here is you have an elderly gentleman who’s not particularly mobile and if something hot has dropped down and he’s wearing something readily combustible, like a cotton shirt, with those conditions, then there’s the potential. All these things have to come into alignment but every now and then they do.’’
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THE SCENE: Cardrona rest home where a man caught fire while smoking a cigarette on Saturday. He later died in Waikato Hospital.