Seven elderly women died in this intense fire that gutted the top story of a Wellington rest home on 26 July 1969. Although the building complied with regulations of that time, it did not have sprinklers or an automatic alarm. The manual alarm was set off by the matron, Rose Thorn. Thorn and a newly employed cook re-entered the burning building several times to guide and carry the other 13 residents to safety. The cause of the fire was not established, but it appeared to have started in the ground floor matron’s office.
Fire fighting response
Northland and Thorndon Fire crews were dispatched immediately after the 111 call at 6.30am. Fire crew were aware there were up to 7 persons trapped in the second floor, but were unable to gain entry. Two more appliances were later dispatched. It took over an hour to control the blaze, after which the 7 deceased were found.
Legislative changes / lessons learned
- Led to Committee of Inquiry into fire protection and means of escape in buildings for accommodation of the public or incapacitated persons (1970)
- The Committee, chaired by Jack Hunn, brought down important recommendations which lead to the Fire Safety (Evacuation of Buildings) Regulations 1970. These compelled owners/ occupiers of buildings to practise a fire service-approved evacuation scheme, and fit automatic alarms and sprinklers for institutions holding more than 20 people. More fatal fires soon showed that these provisions needed to be extended to smaller rest homes.
- Contributed to the emphasis on fire safety matters in the Fire Service Act 1975.
Members of the NZFS community can borrow these from NZFS Library Services. Members of the public can obtain them via their local library.
McLean, G. (1992). Sprott House 1969. In New Zealand tragedies : fires and firefighting (pp 115-123). Wellington: Grantham House.
City of Wellington Fire Brigade. 1969. Report on fatal fire, Saturday 26th July 1969 : Sprott House, 29 Messines Road, Karori. Wellington; New Zealand Fire Service
Hunn, J K. (1970). Fire protection and means of escape in buildings for accommodation of the public or incapacitated persons : report of the Committee of Inquiry. Wellington; Govt. Print.
Sprott house – photograph.
Nancy Swarbrick. ‘Fires and fire services’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 10-Mar-10