Chattanooga firefighters were dispatched to Erlanger Medical Center shortly after midnight this morning, on a reported fire in the emergency room. Battalion Chief Lesley Morgan said the small fire occurred in Room 28 in the ER section.
A staff nurse was walking by the room when he smelled smoke. When he walked in the room to investigate, he saw the ceiling tiles above the patient’s bed were turning black. The nurse grabbed a portable fire extinguisher, reached up above the ceiling tiles and found a smoldering sweatshirt that was partially on fire.
Chief Morgan said the nurse pulled the sweatshirt down and finished extinguishing the flames with the fire extinguisher. While that was happening, other nurses quickly moved the patients in the immediate area away from the fire. No injuries were reported, thanks to the quick actions of Erlanger personnel, and the loss was minimal, estimated at $500.
Lt. Henry McElvain with the Fire Investigation Division said it appeared the fire was deliberately set. Earlier, a hospital employee reportedly saw the patient, identified as Jimmy Maxwell, 33, smoking a cigarette in his room. When she told him that he couldn’t smoke, he apparently became angry. While no one was watching, he allegedly took off his sweatshirt, placed it above the ceiling tiles over his bed, and set the shirt on fire.
After the fire was extinguished, two deputies with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department questioned Maxwell about the fire. The shirtless Maxwell denied setting the fire, but officers found a cigarette lighter in the man’s boxer shorts.
Sheriff’s deputies will be transporting Maxwell to the county jail this morning for booking, where he will be charged with aggravated arson and reckless endangerment. Lt. McElvain said the charge was upgraded to aggravated arson because Maxwell endangered the lives of 32 patients and 28 staff members who were in the ER at the time.
After being processed at the county jail, Maxwell was expected to be transported to the Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute for observation.