Meeting Focuses on Fire Safety in BC Care Homes

Fire Sprinkler 3

Over 20 stakeholders gathered at BCCPA office to discuss fire sprinkler safety in BC care homes

Over 20 individuals representing key stakeholders (see below for complete list) that either work within or with the continuing care and assisted living sectors in British Columbia held a meeting on Wednesday, February 26th at the BC Care Provider’s Association office in Vancouver to discuss the issue of fire safety within care homes.

The Ministry of Health provided attendees with an update on the current status of care homes and assisted living residences which have either no sprinklers or a partial system in place.

  • All new residential care facilities and assisted living facilities are required to be built to the current B.C. Building Code standards.
  • In fact, all licensed residential care facilities built since 1996 have been built with sprinkler systems and most of the older residential care facilities have been retrofitted.
  • Only 6 per cent of B.C.’s residential care facilities do not have sprinklers – that’s 10 of 361 facilities. Another 12 are partially sprinklered.*
  • In addition, only two percent of B.C’s assisted living residences do not have sprinklers – that’s five of 212 facilities. Another eight are partially sprinklered.*
  • This means the vast majority of both publicly funded and private pay residential and assisted living care facilities already have full sprinkler systems in place.
  • The government updated the Building Code in December 2012 to require any new assisted living facilities to be built with sprinklers. All new buildings will be built to these standards.

The working group agreed that all efforts will be made over the coming weeks to initially focus on the care homes and assisted living residences identified on the official list released by the Ministry of Health.

One of the key outcomes of the meeting is that the Ministry of Health, in consultation with municipal fire officials and the working group, will immediately engage an external consultant to undertake a detailed risk analysis of the identified homes. The consultant will determine all possible risk factors that may exist and what can be done to mitigate them to ensure the continued safety of seniors in care.firesprinkler

During the two-hour roundtable discussion attendees also worked to identify possible gaps in data collection with a commitment to jointly producing an updated and comprehensive list that will be made available to the public in the coming weeks.

Other items discussed:

  • Challenges facing volunteer rural fire departments in responding to fires in care homes
  • What alternatives to sprinkler retrofits exist to reduce fire risk
  • How BC compares to other jurisdictions and whether there are best practices from other jurisdictions that could be implemented
  • The role that combustible materials within a care home (such as furniture and personal belongings) can play in fuelling the rapid spread of a fire
  • Ensuring that residential care facility fire safety plans factor in lower staffing levels at fire halls and care homes during overnight periods
  • Standards for fire prevention and protection vary within municipal jurisdictions

“Our meeting today was an excellent first step at ensuring we gather the data and develop a coordinated action plan moving forward,” says Daniel Fontaine, CEO for the BC Care Providers Association. “We want to assure the public that we are all working collaboratively and are making every effort to prevent the kind of tragedy we witnessed in Quebec.”

The working group has agreed to meet again in the coming weeks and will use that opportunity to receive a briefing on the status of the consultant’s report and map out possible next steps.

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Organizations with representatives in attendance:

Ministry of Health

Ministry of Natural Gas Development and Responsible for Housing

Fraser Health Authority

Northern Health Authority

Island Health Authority

Vancouver Coastal Health Authority

Interior Health Authority

Union of BC Municipalities

BC Care Providers Association

Denominational Health Association

BC Seniors Living Association

Fire Chiefs’ Association of BC

Canadian Automatic Sprinkler Association

National Fire Protection Association

Vancouver, Langley and White Rock fire departments were in attendance representing provincial or national associations

*final numbers are still being tabulated and should be confirmed once the consultant has competed their work