That tragic fire in a seniors’ residence in L’Isle-Verte, a mostly unsprinklered building that led to many deaths, will renew the call to install sprinklers in nursing homes and retirement homes across the country. And rightfully so!
Properly installed and maintained automatic fire sprinklers can be critical life-saving devices. They do not rely upon human factors such as familiarity with escape routes or emergency assistance. They go to work immediately to reduce the danger; they operate automatically in the area of fire origin, preventing a fire from growing undetected to a dangerous size, while simultaneously sounding an alarm.
Automatic fire sprinklers keep fires small; the majority of fires in sprinklered buildings are handled by one or two sprinklers.
That said, fire sprinklers must be but one component of a strategy truly focused on prevention, education and protection to further reduce fire deaths, injuries and losses. This strategy must include ongoing public education and public awareness, smoke detectors, period inspections, fire codes and building codes that are enforced, and a strong commitment from municipal government to provide fire departments with the resources needed to do the job.
A multi-component strategy is needed. Are governments across this country up to this challenge?
Emile Therien, Ottawa
This fire was a horrible and preventable tragedy. Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews shows her ignorance and refusal to protect institutionalized elderly citizens when she made this dumb and irresponsible comment: “I cannot imagine having to deal with that situation [e.g. a seniors home fire] here in Ontario.”
She should start imagining these fires instead of making self-serving copout comments that fail to protect thousands of extremely vulnerable elderly people in public and private nursing and retirement homes. We also learn that most public nursing homes lack sprinklers; installing a province-wide sprinkler system won’t happen for another 11 years. This long delay is not only intolerable, but another weak, bureaucratic excuse of Matthews’ inability to find sufficient funding for nursing or long-term care homes.
It’s also another indication of Ontario government-sponsored elder abuse by neglect. How many more elderly citizens must die or become homeless in fires before Matthews and Prime Minister Kathleen Wynne act to protect many of the most vulnerable among us? Enough is enough!
Don Weitz, Toronto
Several things may have contributed to the disastrous Quebec senior nursing home fire. One is that there was only one overnight worker available at the three-story Residence du Havre to care for over 50 elderly high-maintenance patients when the fire started just after midnight, which indicates that it is woefully understaffed, particularly since many of the nursing home patients are over 80, many with serious ailments, and require walkers and wheelchairs to get around.
Also, the facility had an unsatisfactory sprinkler system, with sprinklers apparently only in the new part of the facility, and even if it had a proper evacuation plan, one facility worker isn’t going to be able to evacuate on his own over 50 people, especially ones so severely impaired, some deeply medicated. There were only volunteer firefighters available to put out the blaze with insufficient equipment.
It looks like the nursing home cut costs where they could at the expense of adequate safety to enhance profits.