10/29/2014 06:09 EDT | Updated 12/29/2014 05:59 EST

Alberta Spends $70 Million For Fire Safety For Seniors

Don Farrall via Getty Images
EDMONTON - Alberta Premier Jim Prentice says the province is committing $70 million to put more sprinklers and other fire safety devices in seniors facilities as soon as possible.

Prentice said Wednesday it's part of a broader strategy to equip the 24,000 government owned and supported seniors care units in Alberta.

"These improvements cannot happen instantaneously," Prentice told about 100 residents at a downtown seniors care facility.

"There will be a three-year plan, where we'll work together with the operators of the facilities, with authorities from the fire departments, to prioritize and move forward."

The $70 million will come from the financial reserves of the Alberta Social Housing Corporation.

About 455 of 657 seniors facilities provincewide do not have sprinkler systems because many of them were built before the sprinklers were made mandatory in 1990.

It's estimated that $250 million is needed to equip or upgrade them with sprinklers.

The province has been working to upgrade the sprinklers following the catastrophic seniors care home fire in Quebec in January that killed 32 residents.

Seniors Minister Jeff Johnson says building managers have been asked to submit needs assessments by Dec. 1 so the province can compile a priority list to take care of the centres with the greatest safety risks.

NDP seniors critic David Eggen said the province needs to act faster to get the sprinklers in place.

"With $70 million dollars, 70 per cent of seniors that don't have sprinklers and adequate fire safety will be left out," said Eggen.

Eggen added that there's more to fire safety than warning devices. He noted that many seniors centres have only one worker on at night.

"You could have all the best sprinklers around, but (if) there's not an evacuation procedure that's adequate, people will be left without adequate safety," he said.

Eggen said there also needs to be legislation compelling private owners of outdated facilities to put in the sprinklers.

Liberal seniors critic David Swann, in a statement, agreed that the government needs to take action "to mandate the installation of fire-suppression systems such as automatic sprinklers in all facilities primarily used for housing seniors and other vulnerable persons.

"Let’s bring all of these facilities into the 21st century before a tragic incident makes us wish we had."


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