Seniors’ home safety worries raised Times & Transcript January 24, 2014

CRAIG BABSTOCK Times & Transcript
January 24, 2014
The tragic fire at a senior citizens’ residence in Quebec early Thursday morning has a New Brunswick seniors’ organization worried that could happen in this province.
“We can’t wait for something like that to happen here,” says Cecile Cassista, executive director of the Coalition for Seniors’ and Nursing Home Residents’ Rights. “I’m very fearful of that.”
The fire occurred in the village of L’Isle-Verte, destroying a large portion of the home. Five people were confirmed dead by Friday afternoon with as many as 30 other people likely killed.
The cause is not yet known, but what is known is that the facility did not have sprinklers all through the building. The older parts of the home did not have sprinklers, while the section built in 2002 did have sprinklers.
The section with sprinklers withstood the blaze much better than the section without.
In New Brunswick, the Fire Marshal determines the standards for these kinds of facilities. Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Molly Cormier says New Brunswick’s 65 nursing homes all have sprinkler systems and fire evacuation plans and are inspected annually by the Department of Public Safety as part of their operating licence.
Nursing homes are for people who are medically stable but need around the clock nursing care.
Cormier says since 1997, all new special care homes, as well as existing special care homes that have major renovations or a change of licence, have been required to have sprinkler systems. This requirement did not exist prior to 1997 so homes built before then may or may not have a sprinkler system.
“Regardless, all special care homes are required to have a fire safety and evacuation plan, and a smoke detector/alarm,” says the spokeswoman.
Special care homes are a step down in the level of care when compared to nursing homes. They are for people who are generally mobile but require the availability of supervision/assistance on a twenty-four hour basis.
Cassista says the thought that not every seniors facility has sprinklers is a concern.
“It’s alarming to me,” she says. “I believe every home that’s going to care for elderly people should have fire standards up to date and should put in sprinklers.”
Cassista, who is also Deputy Mayor of Riverview, says the tragedy in Quebec will likely make fire safety a big topic of conversation going forward.
When asked if the Department of Public Safety is considering any changes to policy after the Quebec fire, Cormier says no matter where a tragedy occurs, it’s only natural for people to ask questions about safety and security in their own community.
“In New Brunswick, we follow national fire and building codes and already have requirements in place related to annual inspection, fire safety and evacuation planning, fire drills, and smoke detectors/alarms,” says the spokeswoman.
“We would have to carefully understand the ramifications of changing those requirements. Any changes would be done in consultation with Public Safety, Social Development, seniors and their families, and the operators of special care homes.”