POLITICS

Quebec government makes sprinklers mandatory in all private seniors' homes

02/17/2015 11:27 EST | Updated 04/19/2015 05:59 EDT
MONTREAL - The Quebec government is making it mandatory for all existing private seniors' homes to be equipped with automatic sprinklers following a coroner's report calling for action.

Labour Minister Sam Hamad said Tuesday that the province will grant operators a five-year grace period to retrofit their homes.

The move comes in the wake of a coroner's report into a tragic blaze in L'Isle Verte, Que., that claimed the lives of 32 seniors a little over a year ago.

Hamad added that the government will also provide up to $260 million in financial aid to help offset the heavy costs, with the details to come in the upcoming provincial budget.

"For our government, seniors have a right to live in a place where they feel safe or where they are safe," Hamad told a Quebec City news conference.

The government will look at all of the recommendations outlined in coroner Cyrille Delage's report and tackle them one at a time, Hamad added.

Delage recommended the installation of sprinklers in all seniors' homes, old and new, in a report released last week.

Hamad said the new measure will apply to most seniors' residences, but there are some exceptions.

Seniors' homes that accommodate a maximum of nine people and facilities with only one floor that do not include more than eight lodgings will be exempt from the new rules.

Those old-age homes would be required to have exit doors that are accessible to seniors being housed there.

But if a two-storey residence doesn't have a balcony and exit doors, sprinklers would have to be installed, Hamad said.

"Following the events of L'Isle-Verte, we have the obligation to do everything possible in order to avoid a similar tragedy from occurring again," Hamad said.

"It's imperative that the government act to increase the safety of our seniors who are housed in these residences."

Hamad also said the new regulations have been welcomed favourably by the Quebec Association of Fire Chiefs.

The head of the Quebec association representing elder care facility owners said he was pleased with Hamad's announcement.

Yves Desjardins said that smaller seniors' facilities would be forced to close if the government did not provide help to cover the high costs of sprinkler installations.

"The smallest residences have big financial pressures," Desjardins said. "That's why we were asking for financial support ... to help them to maintain operations (and) to maintain seniors in their homes."

Under Quebec's old rules, sprinklers were only mandatory in seniors' residences where the occupants are not mobile.

Only part of the 17-year-old Residence du Havre contained sprinklers and many occupants needed wheelchairs or walkers to get around.

An expansion to the three-storey, 52-unit facility was built in 2002 and the sprinklers in the new part of the building triggered the alarm.

Outside Quebec, a blaze in June 2009 at a retirement residence in Orillia, Ont., killed four people and left six elderly residents critically injured.

A coroner's inquest which followed the Ontario blaze made 39 recommendations related to automatic sprinklers in retirement homes and assisted living centres.

That led to a new law in Ontario, which took effect on Jan. 1, 2014, requiring all retirement homes in the province to have automatic water sprinkler systems.

- with files from Peter Rakobowchuk