Originally broadcast on March 19, 2010
Sounding the alarm for sprinklers
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PROVINCIAL AND TERRITORIAL LAWS: Sprinkler systems and nursing homes
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It's never easy to have to consider putting a loved one into a retirement or nursing home or a long-term care facility. However, once you've made that tough decision, you want to know that your parent, relative or friend is taken care of.

Yet, when it comes to fire safety, thousands of nursing and retirement homes are leaving our most vulnerable unprotected.

Sprinkler systems are required in all newly built nursing homes across Canada. But in most provinces and territories, many older nursing homes aren’t required to retroactively install them.

Firefighters agree that the installation of sprinklers in buildings often means the difference between life and death in a fire. Suffocation from smoke is typically what kills first in a fire, and sprinklers help to control smoke and provide more time for people to escape – time which is especially vital in nursing homes, since residents are not always easily mobile.

But despite multiple deaths related to fires in nursing homes without sprinklers, Erica Johnson reveals that many provinces have yet to sound the alarm for increased fire safety.
Posted on March 19, 2010 CommentBookmark, Email & Share
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I personally feel that sprinklers should be in place in ANY dwelling where people reside no matter what the age. You see calls for it on the news every time an apartment or condo complex goes up in flames and people loose their lives, yet our government seems unwilling to do much about the matter. Any life no matter the age is precious.

Having worked in many retirement and long term care facilities in Ontario and Alberta and I can honestly say that a majority of the ones I’ve worked in DID have sprinkler systems in place. Staff have regular fire drills and mock evacuations with the fire department and are aware of which rooms to evacuate first.

RIVEREIN – I can empathise with your warnings. All I can add to that is that families should be aware that they and their loved ones should be actively involved in the facilities Family and Residents councils and know the phone numbers to report any neglect of care (mental/physical/restraints/building/etc.)

Thank you for this story however was it really necessary to scare the poor residents who currently live in the home about the previous fire that happened 30 years ago? It would be better to speak with the stsff. Why would you want to cause some poor residents sleepless nights? That was thoughtless and inconsiderate. Too bad because the rest of the story was very informative and I shall start to investigate this issue for all of my loved ones.

First, It's very obvious that any dwelling with many people living under one roof should have a fire suppression system ,especially a dwelling full of elderly people. But I think there is much more going on here than meets the eye. Why is our government shirking their responsibility? Why is our government silent on many issues that affect every day citizens? Was that Rick Bartolucci side stepping yet another question? He's a real pro at that. I know because I'm from the Sudbury area and I see him doing it all the time, especially when it concerns the 9 month Inco Vale strike. Maybe the CBC should do a documentary on why our governments have become so ineffective.

It is mind boggling that we install sprinklers in our underground garages and garbage rooms, but not in our sleeping areas where people are at the greatest risk. That just goes to show you that we treasure our cars and garbage more than our people. When will the various governments of Canada understand that their greatest responsibility is to take action to protect the people their serve and pass legislation to mandate fire sprinklers in all residential occupancies? The International Residential Building Code and National Fire Protection Association Building Code, widely used throughout the United States, contain requirements for fire sprinklers. Why don’t the Canadian codes have a similar mandate? The Welsh government is about to pass home sprinkler legislation. Why not here in Canada. Do we die differently here?

Politicians in all levels of government should be ashamed of themselves. If something as simple as changing a by-law in the building codes would prevent the loss of lives in a fire, then it should be done. What more has to be studied?There have been several inquiries after fires with lives lost and recommendations were presented to have fire protection sprinklers installed in all old age homes and facilities where people need assistance in an emergency. These recommendations were provided by fire chiefs ( the experts in fire fighting ). Saving lives should be the priority. The cost is irrelevant. The time to study the problem is over. Change the rules NOW. SAVE LIVES!!!!!

Very well presented. Ontario should follow the lead of other provinces like PEI, NL, NS, NB and YK that have mandated the retroactive sprinklering of these homes. Canada's loss rate in these facilities is alarming compared to international stats.

In 1999 the Ontario Fire Marshal's office DID consult with stakeholders and operators and were prepared to implement retroactive sprinklering in these properties but the government chose not to act on their well thought out advice. The 4 lives lost in Orillia may have been prevented as well as the many injured in Niagara Falls. They are now delaying on what was already recommended to them back in 1999. How many more lives shall it take?

This issue has been pushed aside by Ontario governments of ALL stripes for over 30 years. Now, they need to realise that this issue needs to be addressed. They need to resist the influence of the over-powerful home builders associations that have too much control over legislative decisions in this country. Special interest groups should NOT drive public safety policy.

Do the right thing, Minister Bartolucci - listen to the Fire Chiefs. Listen to the Public Safety Professionals who have the expertise to know what is necessary.

Any other move is unacceptable.

Paul Karbusicky, I think your comment is ignorant and very unappreciative. At least CBC Marketplace is doing something productive. Suggesting a sprinkler system is certainly a starting point for those care-homes that don't even have one. I'm sure we would all like to live in houses made of concrete blocks; but you've got to start somewhere.

I challenge you to instead of being THAT critical and idealistic, come up with a better way to contribute. Criticism is a half-... attempt at caring. But it's not productive, it's just a self-defense mechanism.

RIVEREIN, your comment is so spooks. Reminds me of the movie Sublime; being trapped in a situation of daily suffering.

Oh isn't that a nice video of an OPP Officer telling Erica Johnston a member of the Public to leave "Public" property.

I thought the "oppressive state" died with Hitler...hey wait....I have an idea....maybe we should swap the retirement homes and use them as Offices for our MPP.....

Thank you, Marketplace and CBC, for airing such an important piece on a very simple and readily available technology. The only thing missing is the legislation to put sprinklers into place.

Yes, residential sprinklers are meant for "control" of a fire versus outright "suppression", but that is what differentiates residential systems from commercial systems and, thereby, making the more affordable for residential application. But, imagine the difference when it comes to nursing homes and other care facilities in which the occupants rely solely on others for their evacuation. The extra time afforded by sprinklers is... as a certain commercial says, priceless.

One only needs to look at the numbers pointed out in the story. $41K estimate for a retrofit system vs an $800K loss with multiple deaths. It's a no-brainer in my mind. Why wait?

Good program. There are however some other matters to consider.

Sprinklers are not intended to put out fires, only suppress them until the FD arrives. Quick response and evacuation is still important.

Sprinklers are only as good as the water supply that feeds them. The building owners and municipality have to make sure the sprinkler system has enough flow and pressure. The owner should be notified with any disruption of service.

The NBC and other codes allow adjustments in other building components when a sprinkler system is installed.For example the reduction in the fire rating on walls and doors - which are a more failsafe design at times. The cost of the system should not divert $$$ from other safety designs and policies such as having fewer night staff.

Sprinklers are great, but it is a pity if they provide a false sense of security.

To the Minister of Community Safety, Rick Bartolucci. What are you waiting on to act??? More fatalities??? I live in you riding of Greater Sudbury and demand you do what is right. The time is now! Recommendation are good, but actions are needed............your fellow politicians make up the Ontario Government and you must pass legislation ASAP!

At what point does the outrage finally reach a stage that somebody finally gets the message. How many more people have to die before we do the right thing. As a firefighter in this province I have seen first hand the ravages of what fire does to life and property. The Fire Chiefs and Prevention Divisions have called for sprinklers in all residential structures to protect us where we are suppose to feel the safest. The Ontario Building Code calls for us to ensure that the garbage rooms in certain facilities must be sprinklered but somehow we don't feel that a life is worth protecting? The government and builders must be made to realize that a life is worth more than the added cost per square foot.

i am a volunteer fire fighter in alberta i live in a village of 350 people and the seniors home that is in my town we just recently renovated and heaven for bid that they installed a sprinkler system in this building we have on avergae 20 residents in the old folks home and attchached this is a alizheimers home also now this people have no idea what to do in case of a fire now tell me where is the alberta government to makes laws to protect these people till the fire department arrives the government has better places to spend money on there own little perks mr ed stelmach time to give your head a shake .

Does anyone know who the minister responsible for fire safety in Ontario is? Id like to send him an email.

The comment posted by RIVEREIN spooks the hell out of me.

Not all places are like that. My mother is in a nice place that has Sprinklers, intercoms, panic buttons and the staff are the most wonderful people you could ever meet.
They go far beyond the call of duty.

The best part is she likes the staff so much she is always telling me how they helped her do this or that. I have seen this with my own eyes many times. Nobody knows when I'm coming so I know it's not fake.

The other thing that I like is the layout of the building.
Every dwelling has doors the lead outside in case of fire.
No smoking inside the building allowed is an added safety.

I have heard horror stories like RIVEREIN is talking about.
I suggest a little walk with the people doing the bad stuff. You know the kind that the bad person comes back on a stretcher. Sure am glad most people out there are good.

You should read Christie Blatchford's article on this subject in the January 22nd edition of the Globe and Mail. Its available on-line. The hearings referenced are still on-going.

How about in every residential, commercial and industrial building? I have been in the fire sprinkler industry for 23 years, and have a fire sprinkler system in my home, my fire protection is always ready. Along with working smoke detectors I am covered, though I don't have to worry about changing a battery or if the power goes out. A residential sprinkler in your home cost less than your carpet, less than your closing fees. There are more fires then the public knows. If there is no great loss of property or loss of life it is not reported. I have gone in after a fire and reinstalled a few fire sprinkler heads and turned the water back on. A residential sprinkler head discharges about 15 gallons a minute a fire hose is around 100 gallons a minute. Seems like a cost effective alternative to a burned out building......Sprinklers in your home are cheaper than your funeral.

why does the minister avoid the question? He'll be in a home sometime.... No doubt he'll want a good one........But so does everyone else.

Why dont they listen to the people who make their living puting out fires?

Erica Johnson,
I watched your Marketplace sequel Burning Question / The Debt Trap this afternoon. I am sure you know that wood is the main component for making paper and building houses. It is no wonder that such houses burn like a paper.
PBS had program about frequency and result of fires here in North America and Switzerland over twenty years ago. What is one room fire in Switzerland, is house burned down here. How it comes that you wouldn't for once question material that houses are build from? That is what I call poor journalism. Levap

I think sprinklers are a good idea, but who is going to pay for them? Most seniors and their families cannot afford higher rent or payments. Sprinklers also have maintenance and if there is an accidental "setting off of a sprinkler head" that makes an incredible mess. (I have seen it). I agree that seniors need help, but who pays for it?

That was a very revealing piece of journalism.
Our mother was a victim of the Orillia fire.
It goes to show that the developers have been hard at work lobbying the various governments to keep the sprinklers out of these homes.
I would think that three inquiries would be enough to have the government finally say yes, let's do it.
The building are nothing but piles of toxic waste that takes no time to burn.
Nobody has a chance anymore.
This adds great danger to any firefighter and their equipment.

Its kind of disgraceful that the minister in charge wont provide a clear answer and just using excuses like "I'm studying the issue" just to buy themselves some time. Well the answer is already there.

And the guards (oops I mean OPP) asked the reporter to leave the premises just to get some answers that will affect law enforcement too. Shame on them!

First Nation Elders live in substandard housing that is not protected by sprinklers. Not only are there no sprinklers but there are no dedicated fire departments in communities and quite often the fire fighting equipment is inoperative. We should protect the elders first, as they were here first.

Policing is a challenging job. However, in a free and democratic society police pesonnel need to be mindful of how they carry out their resonsibilities. Sorry boys, but you were both out of line in this situation.
Interesting story Marketplace, the problem is the industry lobbying that's hindering gov't from doing the right thing. Several major law suits will help to cure the industry of what ails them. Only when these folks have to shell out some serious cash they wise up and do the right thing.

This story brings to light one of many holes that exist in care facilities in Canada, given the demographic balance of our population we will soon have more people in these facilities than ever before, all levels of government need to step up to the plate and ensure all aspect of care are being managed in a manner that puts the well being of the residents before the well being of someone’s wallet. We have put a monetary value on life far too long, sprinklers are like seatbelts and airbags, and everyone should enjoy the peace of mind they provide. Enough rhetoric and banter, like every other safety device before this that groups argued against, sprinklers time have come; everyone deserves a chance to survive a fire. How much is the life of your loved ones worth. They are not intrusive or as expensive as some make out, visit any number of web sites to find out the truth about fire sprinklers.

Shame on the Minister responsible for Fire Safety in Ontario.

His ''Royal Guards'' ask the journalist to leave the property!! Shame on them!

Do they not realize that they have been asked to save lives, which I think is more important than asking the journalist to leave the property (public property may I add)!

Thank you CBC for the great reporting! Once again shame on the Ontario Government and those two ''Royal Guards'' who think that we live in 1543 and that they need to protect their King!!

Residential fire sprinklers are the answer to the fire problem in Canada. Ask any Fire Chief in North America and they will all tell you the same thing.
Hundreds of lives have already been saved in the City of Vancouver who enacted a by-law in 1990 to require sprinklers in all new homes.
How many more lives must be lost before we all install these systems to protect our most valued possession, our family.

I'll be watching. But this isn't the huge killer of people in nursing homes and chronic care centres. That would be inappropriate drugs pushed on the elderly to sedate them, neglect, physical and sexual abuse. Love ones, do not tell the nursing home or your loved one when you plan to visit. Do draw the curtains and inspect your loved one's body, do NOT take the staff's word for the reason for the bruises and swellings, do NOT take their word for why they gave your loved one a brain drug developed for people with schizophrenia, do NOT believe the staff if they tell you your loved one ate, or refuses to eat, DO demand the doctor meet with you, and justify why your loved one is on up to 17 medications, DO find out if the doctor EVER visited your loved one or just phoned in the care he/she was paid for.

In some cases I've seen, death by fire would have been a mercy.

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