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Ontario to legislate sprinklers

May 6, 2013, Toronto – Ontario’s fire chiefs won their long and often frustrating campaign Monday for mandatory sprinklers in homes for seniors and other vulnerable groups.

May 6, 2013
By Laura King

May 6, 2013, Toronto – Ontario’s fire chiefs won their long and often frustrating campaign Monday for mandatory sprinklers in homes for seniors and other vulnerable groups.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne told almost 500 delegates to the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs conference in Toronto Monday morning that the Liberal government will announce changes to the Ontario Fire Code next week to improve safety in homes for special care.

“I know there’s been a lot of discussion at this AGM about enhancing fire safety in housing for seniors and other vulnerable people across Ontario,” Wynne said. “And the OAFC for many years has been a leading advocate for making sprinklers mandatory in existing seniors residences and homes for our most vulnerable citizens.

“Our government supports that position. And that’s why we’re moving to make automatic sprinklers mandatory in residences for seniors, people with disabilities and other vulnerable citizens of Ontario.”

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Ontario will be the first province to legislate the installation of sprinklers in older homes, which have been exempt from sprinklers laws. Wynne said Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur will make the formal and more detailed announcement next week.

The retrofitting of older homes for special care was among the more than 50 recommendations of a technical advisory committee (TAC) that looked into fire safety for vulnerable people after four seniors died in a fire at an unsprinklered retirement home in Orillia, Ont., in 2009.

Jim Jessop, a deputy fire chief in London, Ont., has been the consistent thorn in the side of government on the sprinklers issue and was the OAFC’s representative on the technical advisory committee.

“This really is a transformational day for the fire service,” Jessop said Monday after the announcement that the government would implement the recommendations of the TAC.

“Certainly we are leaders in the country at protecting our residents.”

Jessop said implementing the recommendations will require considerable change and some heavy lifting by Ontario fire departments and municipalities. In addition to sprinklers, the TAC recommendations call for fire departments to attend and evaluate fire evacuation drills and develop registries of vulnerable occupancies in their cities and towns.

“They’re going to have to get a registry, they’re going to have to start inspecting these buildings, so I think the next phase is the implementation and the OAFC’s fire-prevention committee making sure that we provide services to the members so that they can successfully get their jobs done,” Jessop said.

Other TAC recommendations include enhancements to alarm monitoring, self-closing devices and fire-safety planning.

“So there is more work now to do to communicate these changes,” Jessop said. “But it will be phased in over a number of years.”

OAFC president Kevin Foster credited Jessop and others for persevering through the lengthy and process, which has stalled repeatedly over the years.

“It has been a very long journey,” Foster said. “A number of people have been very energetic and driven to ensure there has been change to fire safety measures in vulnerable occupancies in Ontario, and today we heard that all those efforts are going to come to fruition.”

Wynne noted in her brief speech that fire fatalities in Ontario have fallen by 32 per cent in the last decade – there were 86 fire fatalities in 2011, 68 in 2012 and 32 this year – and that the OAFC, the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association and the Fire Fighters Association of Ontario have worked together on myriad issues to make Ontario “a leader in fire safety.”

Wynne cited the adoption of NFPA Professional Qualification Standards in Ontario, a change from the Ontario Fire Service Standards, as an example of healthy change in the Ontario fire service.

“This will give us the global recognition that comes with national rather than provincial standards,” she said.

“The OAFC, the OPFFA and the FFAO are solidly united in the desire to take this course of action,” Wynne said.

She also noted that the government is working on a strategy to help fire departments better understand the role of the Ministry of Labour and occupational health and safety regulations and guidelines. Details about that strategy are not yet available.


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