The 5:30 a.m. blaze at the Laurelton Village Care Center is believed to have started in a wall-mounted heating, ventilation and air conditioning unit in a patient room, said Brick Fire Department Inspector Richard Orlando.
"Flames were seen by the nursing staff while they were evacuating the patients from the room, but then the sprinkler system kicked in and put it out very quickly. Then it was just a smoky situation."
Most of the 128 patients in the facility were able to stay there in other portions of the building, although some may later need to be transferred to another facility the nursing home owns, Orlando said.
Nine patients and two police officers who assisted the first firefighters to arrive were taken to Ocean Medical Center, a short distance down the same road the nursing home is on. Most had suffered smoke inhalation, Orlando said.
Portions of the facility suffered water damage, but the fire itself was contained to the room where it started. Two bed-ridden patients were in the room when the fire broke out, Orlando said.
He said a bill is being considered by the state legislature that would require sprinkler systems in some private homes; they already are required in most commercial buildings.
"The sprinkler system made short work of this fire," he said. "This is the exact reason why we're pushing for this bill to become law. There's no doubt in my mind there would have been loss of life here without that sprinkler equipment."
Ambulances and fire trucks from many neighboring departments raced to the scene, but ultimately were not needed.
The nursing home was making arrangements to have areas affected by the fire, smoke and sprinkler system cleaned.