Fire Fighting in Canada

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Sprinklers review expedited but details still vague

July 26, 2012 – The process of determining how to improve fire safety for seniors and other vulnerable Ontarians has been expedited by four months, the result of increased pressure on the provincial government after two residents of a Hawkesbury, Ont., retirement home died in a fire in May.

July 26, 2012
By Laura King

July 26, 2012 – The process of determining how to improve fire safety for seniors and other vulnerable Ontarians has been expedited by four months, the result of increased pressure on the provincial government after two residents of a Hawkesbury, Ont., retirement home died in a fire in May.

The Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC) told its members on July 6 that Premier Dalton McGuinty had confirmed that the province’s technical consultation into fire safety for seniors would move at a quicker pace than first announced on April 12. The government originally said the consultation would take up to 12 months.

The government officially announced the change in a press release Wednesday, saying recommendations from the technical review are now expected in the fall.

Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur and Linda Jeffrey, the minister responsible for seniors and a longtime proponent of mandatory sprinklers, told seniors and media about the new timeline at a Toronto retirement home on Wednesday.

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“I am pleased that the government is making this issue a priority,” said OAFC president Kevin Foster, who was at the retirement home for the announcement. “The Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs is committed to expediting the work of the technical advisory committee to provide workable recommendations that help improve fire safety for Ontario seniors.”

The OAFC has been pushing for mandatory sprinklers in seniors home for some time. Forty-eight seniors have died in fires in Ontario retirement homes since 1980. New homes require sprinklers but the OAFC wants the government to implement mandatory retrofitting of older retirement homes and long-term care facilities.

McGuinty and Meilleur have said sprinklers will be part of the fire-safety improvements but there are no specifics on how this will occur or over what time period owners of these facilities will be required to comply. These details are expected to be addressed in the technical review.

In late May, after the fire in Hawkesbury and after McGuinty said he was concerned about the length of the technical review, Meilleur cautioned that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to fire safety in seniors homes and questioned the ability of retirement residences in rural areas – which may be on wells rather than municipal water systems – to employ sprinklers.

The OAFC and other groups say that although sprinklers are the most effective fire-safety measure, a complete fire-safety strategy must include public education and training, inspections and code enforcement, door closures and fire separations, and emergency response.

The May 25 fire in Hawkesbury happened the same day the jury in a coroner’s inquest into four fire fatalities at the Muskoka Heights retirement residence in Orillia, Ont., released 39 recommendations, including mandatory retrofitting with sprinklers.

The province says 40,000 seniors live in 700 retirement homes in Ontario and there are more than 76,000 residents in long-term care homes. It says the technical consultation will also look at 3,000 other homes for vulnerable residents.