B.C. seniors group calls for sprinkler upgrades after fatal fire

A seniors group says the province should pay for sprinkler systems in seniors buildings that don't have them, following a fatal fire at a complex in Langley, B.C. on Wednesday.

Site of Wednesday's fatal fire in Langley had no sprinklers

An advocate wants the B.C. government to pay to retrofit the homes 2:08

A seniors group says the province should pay for sprinkler systems in seniors buildings that don't have them, following a fatal fire at a complex in Langley, B.C. on Wednesday.

One person died and 12 people were taken to hospital, including three in critical condition, after the fire broke out on the second floor of the four-storey complex at 203 Street and 54 Avenue on Wednesday morning.

Investigators still don't know how the fire started, but fire officials have confirmed there was no sprinkler system in the 30-year-old building, which was constructed before sprinklers were a safety requirement.

Dave Sinclair, president of the B.C. Seniors Living Association says it is time the province stepped in and upgraded the buildings with sprinklers.

"One death is one too many, as far as I'm concerned," he said.

"We're talking about the most frail people in our society," said Sinclair, "So it would be unconscionable in my mind to not try and get those buildings retrofitted."

One person died and three others were sent to hospital after the fire broke out at 203 Street and 54 Avenue in Langley, B.C. (CBC)

The Elm building is owned by the province and managed by the Langley Lions Senior Citizen Housing Society, a non-profit that aims to provide affordable housing to seniors.

Three other buildings managed by the society at the same site also don't have all sprinklers installed.

The province hasn't said whether it will fund the upgrades, but in a statement, B.C.'s Minister Responsible for Housing Rich Coleman said it would have cost over a million dollars to retrofit that one building with sprinklers.

Earlier this year the Ontario government committed $20 million to install sprinkler systems in seniors homes.

Surrey Fire chief Len Garis says it's worth the expense, because the research he's done proves sprinklers significantly reduce the risk of death.

"The rate per 1,000 fires, without a sprinkler system, is increased by 13.7 times," said Garis.

Sinclair's association is now taking inventory of the 135 buildings it represents, to find out how many are still without a sprinkler system.

About 100 seniors were evacuated from their apartments on Wednesday and are now staying at local hotels. On Thursday, residents were allowed back in the building, but only to collect their belongings.