The month of January has been witness to two separate fires in seniors’ homes, both of which resulted in fatalities. On January 15th two people died in Saguenay, Quebec, located north of Quebec City, and on January 19th another two people died in Orillia, Ontario. Both fires started in the early morning when most residents would be sleeping, and in all likelihood, staff numbers would be reduced. Other common factors between these two deadly blazes include; combustible construction and non-sprinklered facilities. The building code has taken these two factors into consideration when constructing schools for our children. Take a look at one of the modern schools built in Russell; the structure is either built from steel or masonry, both of which are non-combustible. The interior walls are gyprock and steel studs, again non-combustible. Even if a fire were to occur, a fully charged sprinkler system would automatically be engaged. The evolution of the building code has been designed to protect people by providing safe buildings, and it does a good job when it comes to protecting our children by providing very safe schools. However, the provincial government cannot see why some of these same innovations should be used to protect one of the most vulnerable sectors of our society today; seniors who live in retirement homes. Currently the fire code states that nursing homes less than four-storey’s tall aren't required to install sprinklers. The Ontario Fire Marshals Office has been a proponent of furthering mandatory sprinkler legislation for a long time, unfortunately our current Premier, Dalton McGuinty, doesn’t share the same sense of urgency. Just this past week when asked if mandatory sprinkler legislation should be extended, he responded by saying that further study is still required. The demand for requiring sprinklers in seniors’ homes is not a knee-jerk reaction to the recent fires. In 1996, A coroner's inquiry recommended all private retirement homes have sprinkler systems regardless of when they were built, after eight people died in a fire at the Meadowcroft Place retirement home in Mississauga. This is not a new problem, it is something that has been around, recognized and documented for over 13 years. The lack of concern for the safety of seniors is something that borders on discrimination.
If two similar incidents occurred that resulted in children being harmed, you can bet that sweeping legislation would be brought into place immediately, and rightly so. So, why is the same sense of urgency not felt when we are faced with a problem that obviously exists, and has an equally obvious solution? Trying to quickly evacuate any building is hard enough, trying to do so when every resident is a senior and good portion of them could have some form of physical limitation is near impossible. Sprinkler systems are a proven solution, they work and they save lives. Why does this only seem obvious to people involved in the fire service? Possibly it is because we have to deal with the results of not using them.