Fire Fighting in Canada

Headlines News
Inquest expected to call for OFM to expedite sprinklers

May 17, 2012, Midhurst, Ont. – The lawyer for the City of Orillia and its fire department is proposing a package of recommendations to the jury in the Muskoka Heights inquest that calls on the fire marshal to accelerate multiple changes to better protect seniors.

May 17, 2012
By Laura King

May 17, 2012, Midhurst, Ont. – The lawyer for the City of Orillia and its fire department is proposing a package of recommendations to the jury in the Muskoka Heights inquest that calls on the fire marshal to accelerate multiple changes to better protect seniors.

Among the recommendations that lawyer John Saunders will urge the jury to consider are the expedited implementation of mandatory sprinklers in all retirement homes, stronger enforcement of fire-code violations through ticketing and fines, mandatory alarm-monitoring systems, expanded train-the-trainer programs for retirement home workers, quicker completion of a technical review on fire-safety for seniors, and updating of the fire code to comply with current legislation.

“Sprinklers,” Saunders said Wednesday during a break in the inquest. “The big thing for us is the timeframe. We say the fire code should be amended by end of December and then put a five-year implementation period on [retrofitting].”

Sprinklers are mandatory in new retirement homes but older homes are not required to be retrofitted. The Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs has been calling for mandatory retrofitting, and the OFM has launched a technical review of fire-safety for homes for seniors just before the inquest began in April. The review is expected to take several months.

Advertisment

Saunders noted that the OFM formed an advisory committee in 1999 to look at sprinklers in care occupancies, as well as training and fire safety plans. There was another public consultation in 2010, with 234 responses. A report on that process was released in April and coincided with the announcement of the technical review.

“The earliest that legislation would be changed is by end of next year,” Saunders said, “so December 2013, and with a five-year implementation [to retrofit] it would take you to 2019 – 20 years after the initial committee.”

Saunders also wants increased enforcement of the fire code in homes for seniors, with more violations subject to tickets and fines.

“A ticket would be an increased deterrent and a way to change behavior,” he said.

Other proposed recommendations include:

• Harmonizing the fire code to ensure common language and consistency with the building code, the long-term care and retirement homes acts, and the Residential Tenancies Act.

• Mandatory alarm systems for seniors homes with direct access to the fire department or systems monitored by alarms companies.

• Expediting the time frame to complete the OFM’s technical review for fire safety in seniors homes.

• Calling on the OFM and the Ontario Fire College to explore alternatives – such as webinars and video training – to the delivery of train-the-trainer courses for employees of seniors homes.

• A more user-friendly section of the OFM website for owners/employees of retirement homes that provides items such as checklists for the annual review of fire safety plans, and tools for assessing cognitive and physical capabilities of residents as they relate to the ability to evacuate the building in an emergency; templates for templates for conducting fire drills.

Lawyers representing all parties with standing at the inquest will outline their proposed recommendations to the jury next Wednesday.

Saunders noted yesterday that three coroner’s inquests have all recommended mandatory sprinklers and fire-alarm systems in seniors homes and said the province is dragging its feet on the issue.

OFM engineer Al Suleman testified on Tuesday that earlier recommendations for mandatory sprinklers “raised significant cost and disruption to residents” and said some homes would have shut down had they been forced to retrofit.

“What is the official position of the OFM with regard to retroactive sprinklers? Do you support them or not?” Saunders asked.

“Yes, we support sprinklers in the tool box in consideration of a systems approach,” Suleman said.
Saunders noted that since the Muskoka Heights inquest began in April the OFM has launched a seven-week review of proposed amendments to the Ontario Fire Code, and the technical review of the safety in seniors homes.

“So if they can ram through amendments to the fire code, why can't we ram through a couple of these other things like sprinklers that three coroners juries have recommended?

“Al Suleman said to his knowledge no one has ever died in a sprinklered facility.”