NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Two decades ago, more than a dozen people died in a fire at NHC nursing home, including the mother of a Nashville firefighter.  

“A nursing home fire is one of, if not the most dreaded fires you can respond to,” recalled Bobby Connelly, who worked for the Nashville Fire Department for 53 years. “The fire department, we always try to act like this is the real thing, and it was the real thing!” 

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The former district chief wasn’t working at the time, but got a call from his sister-in-law. The fire quickly turned personal with his 91-year-old mother, Thelma, inside. He remembered rushing to the scene, looking up toward her room. 

“I could see the black on the brick on the outside on the exterior glass, so I knew it was in that area that the fire was,” Connelly said.  

He quickly jumped into action, but sadly, his efforts were too late.  

“The ones that had passed were out on a patio,” Connelly said. “I recognized my mom through a, she had a little gold band that she wore, and I found her and… the firefighters gathered around, we had a prayer and we carried her out of the building.” 

In total, 16 people died from that fire. Although tragic, Connelly’s mom taught him one life lesson: always stay positive.  

“I try to think positive about this fire. It’s very difficult to because they should have had sprinklers in it, but now they are required to have it by law,” Connelly said. 

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On top of nursing home sprinkler laws that came from this tragedy, Connelly always hoped facilities would be required to keep their most vulnerable patients on lower levels. Looking back two decades later, Connelly also holds on to one other positive from that day.  

“I credit the fire department for a wonderful job because they saved 100 or more people anyway that day,” Connelly said.  

News 2 knows of at least 32 lawsuits that were filed and settled as a result of the fire.