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Inquest calls for overhaul of safety for retirement homes

laura-kingMay 25, 2012, Toronto – The jury in the inquest into four fire deaths at the Muskoka Heights retirement home in Orillia, Ont., called Friday for extensive changes to legislation and fire and building codes to better protect seniors.

May 25, 2012
By Laura King

May 25,
2012, Toronto – The jury in the inquest into four fire deaths at the Muskoka
Heights retirement home in Orillia, Ont., called Friday for an extensive changes
to legislation and fire and building codes to better protect seniors.

The six-person
jury issued 39 recommendations – some with multiple sections – including mandatory
retrofitting of retirement homes with automatic sprinklers “without exception”,
and the installation of smoke alarms in all sleeping rooms that are connected
to the fire-alarm system.

It also
called for enhanced ticketing and fines for failure of retirement-home owners
to comply with the fire code.

The lengthy
list of proposed changes and upgrades urges agencies that are responsible for
or interested in fire and life safety for seniors to work together to develop
guidelines for minimum staffing in homes to ensure effective emergency
evacuations, and to create a tool for owners to use to assess the ability of
residents to evacuate.

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The jury
recommends that the Ontario Office of the Fire Marshal (OFM), the Retirement
Homes Regulatory Authority and the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC)
co-operate on these initiatives.

The OAFC
has been pushing for all retirement homes to be retrofitted with automatic
sprinklers. The OFM has initiated a technical review of fire safety for seniors
but the process is expected to take several months. The jury has asked that the
OFM complete the review as fast as possible and that it develop cost-management
tools for retrofitting homes with sprinklers.

Orillia
Fire Chief Ralph Dominelli said Friday afternoon that he hopes the
recommendations are enacted sooner rather than later, and noted that he will
continue to push for improvements to legislation and the codes to ensure all
types of homes for vulnerable occupants are safe.

Dominelli
said he’s glad the recommendations provide more tools for fire department to
use to ensure the safety of residents.

Dominelli
noted, however, that he had hoped the recommendations would also apply to long-term
care facilities – which are classified as B2 occupancies – rather than just B3
retirement homes.

OAFC
president Kevin Foster said Friday that he, too, hopes that the recommendations
will be enacted quickly and that they will be extended to other types of care
facilities.

“This marks the fourth coroner's jury to recommend
automatic sprinklers in care occupancies,” Foster said.

“The recommendations are solid. If they’re
implemented there will be an improvement in fire safety in these facilities.

“We are hopeful that the government will mandate
this important improvement as soon as possible and look forward to further
expansion of the recommendations into additional occupancies during the
vulnerable occupancies technical advisory consultation.”

Fire Marshal Ted Wieclawek said Friday afternoon
the OFM will review the recommendations in detail and thanked the coroner for initiating the inquest "so that we could learn more about how to enhance public safety in the province."

New
retirement homes are required to be sprinklered but older homes do not have to
be retrofitted despite similar recommendations by the previous inquests.

The jury in
the Muskoka Heights inquest also wants the fire code to be amended to require a
minimum of two supervisory staff on site at all times in retirement homes. A
lone personal-care worker was on duty the morning of the Muskoka Heights fire
in January 2009. There were 20 residents in the unsprinklered building. Two
died at the scene; two others died later in hospital.

Recommendations
were compiled by lawyers for all parties with standing at the inquest and
provided to the jury earlier this week for consideration. The Office of the
Chief corner issued its list of recommendations today, including the following:

Retirement home owners should be
required to provide proof of compliance with the fire code before getting a
licence to operate.

  • The licence should require that at
    least one staff person is trained in fire safety.
  • Amending the fire code so that any
    licenced retirement home is considered a B3 occupancy (and therefore must
    comply with regulations for this type of residence)
  • Amending the fire code to require
    retrofit of all suite doors with self-closing devices and optional hold-open
    devices connected to the fire-alarm system.
  • The development an implementation
    of regular mock evacuation programs for all retirement homes.