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NFPA Impact: August 2010

Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to sit on a panel with Chief Bruce Burrell, representing the CAFC, and Kevan Jess, the Alberta Chief Fire Administrator. The panel was part of the inaugural meeting of the Canadian Association for Senior Living (CASL).

August 9, 2010
By Sean Tracey

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Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to sit on a panel with Chief Bruce Burrell, representing the CAFC, and Kevan Jess, the Alberta Chief Fire Administrator. The panel was part of the inaugural meeting of the Canadian Association for Senior Living (CASL). It represents four of the provincial associations of nursing and care home operators and thus the major players in providing care and accommodation services to this at-risk group. As part of the panel we were able to identify our pressing concerns regarding fire and life safety in these facilities. The CASL panel discussion was an intriguing first step. Coming from this is the suggestion that CASL work with CAFC through a working group that would address many of the concerns that both parties have regarding care occupancies. If this working group proceeds, it could result in change proposals being made to the National Fire Code of Canada that would clarify inspection requirements for B2 and B3 occupancies. The Canadian Code Centre would be very hard pressed to reject any change proposals coming from such a combined effort.

One of the points I raised during the CASL panel discussion was that the fire loss rate in these Canadian facilities is significantly greater than in their U.S. counterparts. A review of Canadian statistics as of 2002 showed Canadians the fire fatality rate in homes for the aged was 9.28 times that of the U.S. The rate in homes for the aged is 4.79 times that of all other Canadian occupancies combined. We have a problem. I believe this is due to the lack of guidance in the fire code such as that found in the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code.

NFPA 101 is used in all U.S. states and has been adopted in two Canadian provinces, P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.  Any U.S. care facility receiving federal funding must comply with NFPA 101. NFPA 101 has two classes of occupancies that are relevant for our discussions – health-care occupancies, which would be our B2 or nursing homes, and board and care occupancies, which would be similar to or our assisted living or B3 categories. NFPA 101has been refined over time from our North American fire loss experience. NFPA takes information from a number of fire investigations including the Meadowcroft fire in Mississauga, Ont., and pass these to the committee for possible inclusion. Committee members include a balance of interests that include care industry reps. We therefore believe we have the most current consensus codes that reflect our concerns for a balance between fire safety and societal costs.

The 2006 edition of NFPA 101 was changed to require the retroactive sprinklering of all existing nursing homes (B2). (NOTE: Any care facility (B3) that has an impractical evacuation capability must meet the fire safety performance requirements of a nursing home – thus retroactive sprinklers.) This was a change introduced by the American Health Care Association following a number of multiple fatality fires in 2003. As of 2013 all nursing homes receiving federal funds must be retroactively sprinklered in accordance with NFPA 13. In a presentation at the NFPA annual meeting it was reported that an estimated 90 per cent of the existing nursing homes are now sprinklered. The remainder shall be by 2013.

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One other pressing concern we have in Canada is how we assess evacuation capabilities of residents for self-evacuation. One option is for a number of timed evacuation drills at challenging times throughout the day and at varying staff levels. There is no clear guidance in the fire codes. This causes confusion for the home operators and conflicts with local authorities. The Fire Code is silent on performance requirements – NFPA 101 can provide this guidance. Timed evacuation drills may not always be practical or the facility may be unwilling to do this. NFPA 101A Guide on Alternative Approaches to Life Safety is a very useful tool. It has a chapter on how to assign an evacuation capability score based on the number of patients, their physical and mental characteristics, as well as the number of staff present.

Let me be clear. We need these facilities as they provide an invaluable service to these seniors. They also relieve the stresses on our over-taxed health-care system. With the changing demographics there will be a greater demand on these types of facilities. However, we need firm performance measures for these facilities based on occupants’ capability for self-preservation. The long-proven consensus developed standards found in NFPA 101 and NFPA 101A should be the solution. They have come to this consensus in the U.S. and have the lower fire losses to benefit. We just need to get these into the Canadian fire codes. The potential working group between CASL and CAFC may be our best option. 


Sean Tracey, P.Eng., MIFireE, is the Canadian regional
manager of the National Fire Protection Association International and
formerly the Canadian Armed Forces fire marshal. Contact him at
stracey@nfpa.org.


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