A building fire in south Nashville killed three women and injured up to nine other people. The fire occurred at a halfway house, where officials say there were no working smoke detectors or sprinklers. Now, women who needed a second chance are without a home as officials investigate to determine what caused the fire and why the halfway house did not have adequate safety features, features that likely would have prevented the blaze from becoming so deadly.
Three Residents of Halfway House Killed in Structure Fire
The fire broke out in the 400 block of Southwood Drive, in south Nashville, Tennessee, at around 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday, February 14. The blaze reportedly started in the basement, though officials have not yet determined the cause. At the time of the fire, 12 program residents, two house managers and a young boy were in the home.
Killed in the south Nashville building fire were:
- Kathleen Baird, 22
- Elizabeth Lopez, 35
- Tammy Nelson, 36
The three women were all rescued from a rear upper room and taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where they died. As many as nine others suffered non-critical injuries and were taken to hospital for treatment.
Witnesses and Responders Describe Intense Blaze
Ray Dunning, a neighbor to Southwood Women’s Home, said the home had been quiet until the night of the fire.
“I could see smoke billowing out from under the eaves of the house,” Dunning told reporters. “And then there was smoke, of course, all the way around.”
Lance Cook, another neighbor, said he occasionally heard fighting from the house, but it wasn’t a frequent occurrence. On the morning of the fire, he heard screaming that he thought was another fight.
“It wasn’t,” Cook told reporters. “It was more than that. I’ve been sick all day.”
First responders were delayed by narrow streets that required ambulances to park away from the home and take the victims by gurney up a hill.
Once they got in the home, firefighters had to contend with navigating through the dark and the smoke to find victims.
“It’s totally dark,” said Nashville Fire Department Chief David Christian. “You’re blind when you’re going in. The call came in that we had patients trapped, and firefighters got in there real fast, got the patients out.”
Halfway House not Registered or Licensed
According to officials, the halfway house—called Southwood Women’s Home—was operated by Footprints to Recovery, an organization that says it provides traditional halfway homes for women in recovery. The Nashville Fire Department, however, says the house was not properly licensed and furthermore was never inspected.
Meanwhile, an official with Tennessee Mental Health and Drug Abuse Services noted that Southwood Women’s Home did not have a state license, but did not need one because it was not a treatment center.
Despite Southwood Women’s Home not needing a state license to operate, officials are investigating possible criminal negligence charges related to the lack of working smoke detectors or sprinklers.
“[Working smoke detectors] would have, I think, made the difference in waking the residents,” said Mark Young, president of the International Association of Firefighters.
The National Fire Protection Association estimates that three of five deaths in a home fire is linked to a lack of working smoke alarms.
“It kind of irritates, maybe it just frustrates me more than anything to know something so simple took people’s lives,” said Jeff Boggs, an engineer with Franklin Fire Department.
Though the home was operated by Footprints to Recovery, it was owned by Malcolm Lee Barrett and Pamela K. Barrett, according to reports. Their company, Barrett Realty, has allegedly received hundreds of citations for code violations in a three-year span. Those mostly involved high grass and furniture in the yard.
Footprints to Recovery Releases Statement
In a statement, a spokesperson for Footprints to Recovery (sometimes referred to as Footprints 2 Recovery) said their hearts go out to the families of the women who died in the fire. The statement noted that the organization is fully cooperating with investigators and was working to find a new home for women in recovery.
The Nashville organization, Footprints to Recovery, is not the same as a national organization called Footprints to Recovery, which operates addiction treatment programs and centers and has national accreditation.
Victims’ Families Remember Their Loved Ones
Tammy Nelson’s family spoke to reporters after the tragedy and remembered her as someone who was always trying to cheer people up. After finishing in rehab, she moved to the halfway house while completing a program for addiction recovery.
“She felt so good being clean and sober and then she just dies in a fire after struggling for so long,” said Heather Horne. “It’s not right.”
Horne went on to question the lack of fire safety features in the home.
“They were paying $500 a month to live there and you tell me they couldn’t afford fire alarms and fire extinguishers.”