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Care home classification questioned

Jan. 5, 2012 – The Ontario fire marshal’s office has advised Caledon Fire & Emergency Services to treat a home for special care in Caledon, Ont., as a large residence rather than an institution, after the town’s fire chief and fire prevention officer insisted that more staff were needed to ensure safety for residents.

January 5, 2012
By Laura King

Jan. 5, 2012 – The Ontario fire marshal’s office has advised Caledon Fire & Emergency Services to treat a home for special care in Caledon, Ont., as a large residence rather than an institution, after the town’s fire chief and fire prevention officer insisted that more staff were needed to ensure safety for residents.

In a decision in late December, the Office of the Fire Marshal (OFM) suggested treating Oliver House, a licenced home for special care for 50 people living with chronic mental illness, as a residential occupancy rather than a care occupancy.

The home had come up for re-inspection in the fall, at which time Fire Chief Brad Bigrigg and Fire Prevention Officer Mark Wallace determined that based on direction from the OFM regarding fire safety for homes for vulnerable occupants, Oliver House required an additional staff person at night.

The home’s owner, Jacqueline Corbett, told the Caldeon Enterprise in November that the home has always been considered a group home, that its residents are self sufficient and do not require special medical care, and that additional staffing was not an option due to budget constraints.

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She said that under the Ontario Building Code, the home fits the definition of a residential occupancy rather than a care occupancy. Residents in care occupancies require more specialized care.

Bigrigg said fire-code definitions have changed since Caledon Fire & Emergency Services started inspecting the home in 1998 as an institutional occupancy, when that task was downloaded to the municipality by the OFM. Caledon Fire asked the OFM in October to weigh in on the classification of the home.

Bigrigg said OFM could not stipulate when the facility changed from an institutional occupancy to a residential occupancy. He said the only change to the facility has been an increase in the number of residents.

OFM spokesperson Carol Gravelle said in December that she was not familiar with the Oliver House file and could not comment on it. Ryan Betts, the OFM’s acting manager of public education and media relations while Gravelle is on vacation, said in an e-mail this morning that inquiries about Oliver House should be directed to the local fire and/or building department. Fire Fighting in Canada had asked late Tuesday for comment from Fire Marshal Ted Wieclawek or anyone at the OFM familiar with the file.

In a letter to Bigrigg and Corbett in December, the OFM said its decision to re-classify the home is based on the fact that although its residents require special or supervisory care, they are capable of evacuating the building.

“The advice of the Office of the Fire Marshal is that the issue of cognition, in respect to assistance in evacuation, is best determined in consultation with medical professionals and validated through occupant performance in a fire drill, as appropriate to the circumstances,” the letter says.

“Based on the assessment of the consulting psychiatrist, the residents of Oliver House are capable of complying with fire evacuation procedures. He also notes that the residents in Homes for Special Care settings are capable of evacuating without the assistance of staff.”

The OFM said in the letter that unless there is compelling evidence that residents are unable to follow emergency evacuation procedures, the home would not be considered a care occupancy.

“In consideration of alternative major occupancy classification groups identified in the Building Code, the building would be more appropriately classified as a residential occupancy.”

The Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC) has been working to ensure safety of residents in homes for special care after three people died as the result of a fire in a seniors’ home in Orillia, Ont., in January 2009. The OAFC is campaigning for mandatory sprinklers and encouraging fire chiefs to re-examine fire-safety plans for those types of occupancies to ensure safety for residents and firefighters, and liability protection for chiefs in the event of injuries or death.

Bigrigg said council will determine after consultation with fire officials and the municipality’s chief administrative officer whether to accept the change in the home’s status. If council chooses not to accept the OFM’s reclassification, the home would be required to revise its fire safety plan.


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