Gatineau fire service falling behind in long-term care home inspections

Gatineau’s fire department is falling behind when it comes to inspecting publicly run residential and long-term care centres, documents obtained by Radio-Canada show.

Documents show half haven't been inspected in 5 years

Documents obtained by Radio-Canada show the Gatineau fire department hasn't inspected four of the eight publicly-run residential and long-term care centres for at least five years. Municipal regulations require an inspection every three years. (Getty Images)

The Gatineau, Que., fire service has failed to meet its own inspection standards for publicly run residential and long-term care centres, according to documents obtained by Radio-Canada under access to information.

The documents show the fire department is supposed to conduct inspections of the Centres d'hébergement et de soins de longue durée (CHSLD) every three years, according to municipal regulations. 

However, half of the city's long-term care centres haven't been inspected in at least five years. One of those facilities,
CHSLD Renaissance, hasn't been inspected in seven years. 

The Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de l'Outaouais (CISSSO), which manages the city's eight centres, says its fire prevention technicians carry out regular inspections, including annual checks of fire alarm systems and sprinklers.

However, the fire service is also supposed to conduct inspections of fire alarms, sprinklers and evacuation routes, and also make sure buildings are accessible.

CHSLD La Pietà, in Gatineau (Radio-Canada/Simon Lasalle)

The lack of inspections between September 2010 and September 2019 is a breach of municipal fire safety regulations, as mandated by Quebec's ministry of public safety.

Infrequent inspections, lax documentation

The documents show that CHSLD La Pièta in Hull has not been inspected since 2014, while the most recent inspection at CHSLD Renaissance in Gatineau dates back to 2012.

CHSLD Vigi de l'Outaouais was inspected in 2017, but that was over seven years since its last inspection. 

Inspections at residential and long-term care facilities are particularly important as it's more difficult for seniors to evacuate during emergencies. That's also the case for hospitals and private seniors' residences, which must also be inspected every three years in Gatineau.

Inspections usually take three to four hours. Writing up documentation afterward, including issuing infraction notices, can take an additional six to eight hours.

Anthony Savard, the fire department's chief of prevention, said they had to focus their resources on a series of natural disasters that struck Gatineau over the past few years. (Radio-Canada)

Gatineau fire inspectors have issued around 20 infraction notices to CISSSO since September 2010. 

Only once in that time did fire officials confirm to the health authority that the infraction had been corrected. This was for an inspection follow-up at CHSLD Vigi de l'Outaouais.

Fire service in 'catch-up mode' in 2020

Anthony Savard, chief of prevention at the Gatineau fire service, says while seniors in Gatineau's long-term facilities are safe, his department is playing catch-up when it comes to municipal inspection standards.

Savard said the delay in inspections is due to the major disasters that have recently hit the region — like the floods in 2017 and 2019 and the tornado in 2018 — which caused the organization to re-prioritize their resources. 

Savard added that since CISSSO has its own in-house fire prevention technicians, his 12-person team focused its limited resources on inspecting private seniors' residences.

Seniors' groups want regular inspections

The lack of regular inspections, however, has seniors' associations in the region concerned.

Marc Desjardins, director of la Table de concertation des aînés et des retraités de l'Outaouais, a group that represents seniors, said the delays are alarming and unacceptable.

The Quebec Federation of Senior Citizens also said it wants more frequent inspections from the Gatineau fire department.

Marc Desjardins, director of la Table de concertation des aînés et des retraités de l'Outaouais (TCARO) (Radio-Canada)

Stéphane Pleau, the director of technical services and logistics with CISSSO, said annual inspections of fire alarms and sprinklers are carried out for each CHSLD by its own inspectors. 

"It is our primary responsibility. We are, of course, assisted and supported by the fire department, but we have our own much tighter protocol for doing our inspections," he said.

In addition to the annual inspections, CISSSO also conducts regular inspections of the centres, ensuring the doors are properly closed and there's no congestion in the corridors, among other things. 

This spring, the Gatineau fire department will table its risk assessment plan. The guidelines that require CHSLD inspections every three years may be under review during this process.

With files from Radio-Canada's Laurie Trudel


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