Fire drills at Quebec seniors' homes 'cause for concern,' fire chief says

Data on fire drills at seniors homes in several Quebec municipalities reveal there's still a lot of work to be done to ensure elderly residents know how to get out safely should a fire break out.

Seniors' housing association president says practice evacuations are traumatic for residents

According to provincial regulations, seniors' home owners must complete at least two fire drills per year. The presence of firefighters is not mandatory. (CBC)

Data on fire drills at seniors' homes in several Quebec municipalities reveal there's still a lot of work to be done to ensure elderly residents know how to get out safely should a fire break out.

It's been two years since the fire at the senior citizens' residence in L'Isle-Verte, Que. which resulted in the death of 32 residents.

Data obtained through an access-to-information request shows that in Lévis, for example, 13 of the 30 fire drills held between June 2013 and October 2015 did not respect regulations.

Some of the issues included residents failing to leave their rooms, not hearing the alarm or not taking the nearest exit.

Many residences in Lévis went over the mandated 11 minutes to evacuate a residence completely. One took 29 minutes before it cancelled the drill.

Mandatory fire drills

According to provincial regulations, the owners of seniors' homes must complete at least two fire drills per year. The presence of firefighters is not mandatory.

But Sylvain Dufresne, one of the vice-presidents of the Quebec Association of Fire Chiefs, says even after the L'Isle-Verte tragedy, owners are hesitant to complete the drills.

"I'm not convinced that if firefighters didn't follow up with homes, that [drills] would happen in a systematic way," he said.

"It is a cause for concern. We know that a certain group of owners who represent seniors' homes told their employees not to do the drills, claiming it was dangerous for the residents."

Reassuring residents

According to Yves Desjardins, the president of a group representing private seniors' residences in Quebec, the mandated fire drills can be traumatic for seniors.

We don't think [fire drills are] essential.- Yves Desjardins, president of Quebec Private Seniors Housing Association

"We don't think it is essential," he said.

"Right now, it's important to educate the residents. But we don't think making them run up the stairs is a good idea. After a drill, we have to reassure residents for two or three days that the home is safe, and there is no danger."

Fire drill results

Lévis: Out of the 30 fire drills held between June 2013 and October 2015, 13 did not respect the regulations.

  • A fire drill at Résidence Les Marronniers in August 2014 was cancelled after 29 minutes. A total of 46 residents remained inside the home at that time.
  • A drill at Résidence Notre-Dame in September 2014 failed safety regulations for several reasons. The front door did not automatically unlock when the fire alarm was activated, residents weren't directed to the nearest exits and the fire door in the dining room was not closed due to decorations in the way.

Laval: In 2015, seven private seniors' homes in Laval failed their last fire drill.

  • A drill at Les Jardins Le Renoir in October 2015 failed to evacuate all residents. The report notes the drill was not done calmly and the speaker announcement calling for a partial evacuation contradicted the telephone message calling for a full evacuation.

  • Le Manoir Chomedey had its permit revoked at the end of April after failing to comply with fire safety measures. A total of 18 pages of violations have been filed against the home. Some issues included the fire alarm not being loud enough, and several smoke detectors not functioning.

Granby: It took seniors 17 minutes to evacuate a seniors' home during a drill in July 2014. During the same drill, only 61 of the 90 residents left. Eight seniors remained in their rooms, and 13 were absent.

With files from Radio-Canada's Cathy Senay, Marie-Hélène Rousseau and Jean-Philippe Robillard