Tuesday, March 24, 2009

NYCLU wants investigation into upstate NY group home fire that killed 4

From The AP:

WELLS, N.Y. — The New York Civil Liberties Union is calling for the state attorney general to investigate the weekend fire that killed four residents at a group home in the southern Adirondacks.

The NYCLU is questioning whether there was adequate staffing at the state-run Riverview Individual Residential Alternative home and whether proper safeguards were in place to protect residents in case of a fire.

"The state had a solemn obligation to support and protect the residents of this group home. It is now incumbent upon the state to find out whether it lived up to that tremendous responsibility," NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said.

The fire broke out early Saturday at the ranch-style home, which opened in June 2008. Two residents died at the scene, while two died on the way to Albany Medical Center Hospital. State mental hygiene law protecting patient privacy prohibits release of their names.

Five residents and two staff members survived. One of the residents was in good condition Monday at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Utica, said Nicole Weinstein, a spokeswoman for the state Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, which runs the home. The others were relocated to another home.

Weinstein said Monday the NYCLU's concerns were unwarranted.

The group home is required to have three staffers on duty during the day and two on duty overnight, which it did, Weinstein said.

The home successfully passed a fire certification inspection in February and was equipped with a sprinkler system and smoke alarms as well as a hydrant out front, she said. The facility also conducted regular evacuation drills, she said.

The state Department of State's Office of Fire Prevention and Control and the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation are leading the fire investigation.

State police Senior Investigator Karl Meybaum said Monday the cause of the fire had not yet been determined.

Lieberman said she wanted the attorney general's office to also review whether recent state budget cuts have resulted in substandard facilities that contributed to the fire. Weinstein said the OMRDD was given a waiver from Gov. David Paterson's hiring freeze.

John Milgrim, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said the NYCLU's request will be reviewed.