Ontario tightens deadline for sprinklers in retirement homes

Local firefighters say it’s about time the installation of sprinklers in Ontario’s retirement and long-term care homes becomes mandatory.

This comes as the McGuinty government announced on Wednesday that it has ordered a technical advisory committee looking at the issue to deliver its findings by the fall, instead of early next year.

The committee was charged with recommending that more retirement and long-term care homes across the province become equipped with sprinklers.

Under current legislation, retirement and long-term care homes may operate without sprinklers, so long as the properties compensate by containing stronger than required fire separation barriers between rooms or floors, or more than required numbers of smoke detectors on the site.

Captain Mark Yantha, of the Cambridge Fire Department, said there is no doubt making sprinkler systems mandatory in assistive living homes, as most in the industry expect the government will legislate soon, would help firefighters save lives.

“To have the buildings sprinkler-ed would be an immense help,” Yantha said.

According to the Office of the Fire Marshal, 202 people in Ontario aged 70 or older died in fires between 2001 and 2010.

Yantha said assistive living homes should have sprinklers to help counteract the problems firefighters have when trying to evacuate the elderly and others with limited mobility.

But mandating that “could be a hardship for some,” Yantha said.

Brent Gingerich is chief executive of peopleCare, which operates Hilltop Manor inCambridge.

He said the Ontario Ministry of Health has already set licensing deadlines and funding programs that will see all of his company’s properties equipped with sprinkler systems within the next 12 years.

“There’s already a program, there’s already a process.” Gingerich said.

“The government could say you have to have (sprinklers) immediately, but that’s not possible because there’s a huge planning process involved and a huge disruption with frail, elderly people in homes.”

Other home operators say they expect the provincial committee will suggest the industry install sprinklers and other devices sooner than currently required, but not right away.

“We agree that sprinklers are an important life-safety measure,” said Sharon Henderson of Chartwell Seniors Housing REIT. “It’s anticipated that the government, while they’ve expedited the consultation, will give a time frame that allows operators to prepare.”

She said the majority of Chartwell retirement and long-term care homes have sprinkler systems already, including all four properties they own in Waterloo Region.

The technical advisory committee is also expected to recommend changes to rules around fire inspection in assistive living homes, as well as the installation of automatic door closers.

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