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laura-kingJan. 24, 2014, Toronto – A CBC reporter called me yesterday – one of a handful of reporters looking for background for stories about the tragic fire in L’Isle-Verte in which at least five seniors were killed.

January 24, 2014
By Laura King


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Jan. 24,
2014, Toronto – A CBC reporter called me yesterday – one of a handful of
reporters looking for background for stories about the tragic fire in L’Isle-Verte
in which at least five seniors were killed.

In the
course of our conversation, she interrupted to say that her mom is in a home in
which there are sprinklers in the public areas but not in the residents’ rooms.
Is that good enough, she asked. You know the answer.
 

CBC’s The
National spent the first third of its broadcast last night on the fire.
Coverage has been excellent in all mediums; reporters have done a great job
explaining that rules about sprinklers in seniors homes differ provincially and
that there’s a mish mash of regulations.

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What
hasn’t been mentioned – as far as I can tell in the myriad stories I’ve read or
watched – is why. Why are sprinklers not mandatory in all residents for
vulnerable people in all provinces?
 

Fred
Hollett, the former fire commissioner in Newfoundland and Labrador, knows the
answer. Yesterday, he tweeted:

In 2003, I issued approx 80 orders
to install sprinklers in PCHs and nursing homes. I had pushback &
suggestions it was uncalled for!

Another
tweet:

Look at L’lsle-Verte today and
tell me what u think. We did the health-care facilities approx 5 years ago. Again,
the right call.
 

In
response, Vince MacKenzie, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador
Association of Fire Services, tweeted:

And it was the right call despite
how hard it was at the time. Seniors are safer today thanks to compliance.

Newfoundland,
Prince Edward Island and Ontario are the only provinces to have mandated full
sprinklering of seniors homes, including retroactive sprinklering of older
facilities.

In
Ontario, this move took years of politically correct lobbying – er, working
with government; this, in a province in which 48 people burned to death in
seniors-home fires since 1980, and four inquests called for – pleaded for – the
province to legislate mandatory retrofitting of older homes with sprinklers.
 

Backlash
from the owners of these types of seniors homes (in other words, voters), plus
the fact that in Ontario the province owns the majority of the homes and now
has to pay for the retrofitting, stymied efforts for years.

So, the
fire service, which, because its members don’t want to experience another
Muskoka Heights (four deaths) or Meadowcroft (eight deaths) and because it’s
simply the right thing to do, took on the issue and fought for sprinklers, and
in
Ontario,
finally, won the battle last year.

Which is
great. But it shouldn't be the job of fire chiefs from towns such as Orillia
and Mississauga and L’Isle-Verte, and fire chiefs associations, to do the government's work – to spend time and money attending fundraisers for ministers
and opposition politicians so they can then have 10 minutes of face time to
plead their cases for life-saving fire-protection measures. But that’s how the
system works. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

In
Newfoundland, Fred Hollett had the gumption to make an unpopular decision. He  shut down homes that didn’t comply until the
owners found money to retrofit. The province eventually provided $4 million to
help the homeowners pay – one time grants to cover 75 per cent of the cost, to
a maximum of $75,000.
 

Christie
Blatchford says in her column in today’s National
Post
that it’s time for Ottawa to force national standards for seniors home
on the provinces that haven’t yet implemented mandatory sprinklers.

The
logical way to do that is through amendments to the national building and fire
codes, and we all know the lightning speed at which those changes occur and the
myriad issues and challenges with code enforcement. Not to mention that Quebec
and some other provinces have their own codes that would need to be
subsequently amended at the usual snail’s pace.
 

Ottawa
can’t figure out how to get the dangerous DOT-111 tank cars – the ones that
exploded in Lac-Megantic – off the rails, yet it is responsible for
transportation safety. Seniors home are the purview of the provinces, so imagine
the gargantuan effort required for Ottawa to even tiptoe into that quagmire.

I’m not
holding my breath. Many more seniors will die before anything changes.

 

 

 

 

 


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