Second floor was deadliest at nursing home with no air conditioning

Erika Pesantes, Megan O'Matz, Susannah Bryan and Paula McMahon, Sun Sentinel on

Published in Weather News

"We have a Signal 7 in Room 229," Hollywood Fire Rescue units said of 92-year-old Miguel Antonio Franco, using their code for a deceased person, according to emergency radio calls provided by the audio streaming website Broadcastify.

Another paramedic announced there "is going to be medical triage on the second floor."

Shortly before 7 a.m. came the radio call of another body: "We have an additional Signal 7 in Room 226." A few seconds later, emergency crews radioed another death and then an official said: "You're going to need to keep track of these."

At one point a rescuer announces: "All patients accounted for on the first floor, green," signaling that they were all alive on the lower floor.

Some of those from the second floor had body temperatures, before or at death, ranging from 107 to 109.9 degrees, according to state regulators. Normal body temperature is considered to be 98.6.

Workers at the nursing home had placed some residents in wheelchairs or in beds in cooler hallways, but kept others in their rooms with fans. Larger fans were placed in hallways. The nursing home also borrowed spot chillers -- portable air conditioners -- that were "distributed evenly on the first and second floors of the building," according to a lawsuit filed by the nursing home, challenging its closing by the state.

The second floor of a two-story building with a failed cooling system would almost always be hotter than the lower floor, especially in Florida, said Todd Washam, director of industry and external relations at the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, a group based in Arlington, Va., that represents 4,000 companies nationwide.

How much hotter is hard to say. "There's just so much to consider -- how big are the windows, what's the insulation like, whether there is tree covering," Washam said.

Sanchez, the Hollywood Police chief, was asked at a news conference Sept. 13 how hot it was in the building. "I'm not going to release those figures, but I can tell you it was very hot on the second floor."

Some windows at the nursing home were open, Sanchez said, but investigators were going to look at "how many windows cannot be opened."

The nursing home shares the building with a psychiatric hospital, Larkin Community Hospital Behavioral Health Services. During the air conditioning outage, that facility's nursing director wrote an email to a Broward County commissioner Sept. 11 asking for help fixing the air conditioning. He explained that "because we are a psych crisis unit we cannot have open windows." The hospital does not want its patients to escape or to jump and get hurt.


(Stephen Hobbs and John Maines contributed to this report.)

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