Montreal

L'Isle-Verte fire prompts calls for mandatory sprinklers in seniors' homes

Exactly one year after a major fire burned down a seniors’ residence in the town of L’Isle-Verte, Que. and killed 32 people, those who work in seniors' homes across the province say little has changed to make them safer.

One year after tragic fire in L’Isle-Verte, experts say a third of seniors’ homes have no sprinklers

A crane knocks down a wall after a fatal fire destroyed a seniors residence in L'Isle-Verte, Que., Thursday, January 23, 2014. Fire officials say sprinklers can easily save lives, but few Canadian homes are protected by them. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Exactly one year after a major fire burned down a seniors’ residence in the town of L’Isle-Verte, Que. killing 32 people, those who work in seniors' homes across the province say little has changed to make them safer.

“It's a very sad tragedy. It can't happen again,” said Yves Desjardins, the CEO of the Quebec Seniors Housing Association.

The association is asking the Quebec government to make sprinkler systems mandatory.

Desjardins said he feels more lives could have been saved last Jan. 23, 2014 if Résidence du Havre had been fully-equipped with sprinklers.

The older part of the Résidence du Havre (red) was built in 1997 and has no sprinkler system. The new wing (blue) was added in 2002 and was equipped with sprinklers. Only a portion of the newer wing is still standing. (CBC)
The three-storey seniors’ home reportedly had a partial sprinkler system. A company that did work on the home said sprinklers were installed in a new annex but not the portion built in 1997, which was the wing that was destroyed in the fire.

Desjardins says that about one-third of seniors' homes in Quebec have no sprinkler system.

It is not required by law and they are very costly to install, he says, especially in an older building.

“It's a key issue — the cost of the sprinkler system. It could cost between $4 and $8 per square foot so it's very expensive."

Desjardins says they should be mandatory - but the only way smaller seniors' residences could afford to install sprinklers is if the government subsidizes them.

“They don't have enough money because it's very expensive to put sprinklers, so they will close and if we don't help them, where the seniors will go?"

Maurice Rivet, a spokesman for the Quebec association of retired public employees, agrees but is not hopeful.

“Unfortunately, I’m not optimistic,” he said.

The province says it will wait for the recommendations of a coroner's report into the tragedy before making any decisions.

"Basically, we are ready to go ahead with the implementation of new rules and then will remain the debate about how to finance that, but there will be an action taken just after the coroner tables his report," said Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette.

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