Alberta to mandate sprinklers in all seniors’ homes within 3 years

Seniors minister vows to install sprinkler systems in all seniors lodges and long-term care spaces

More from Darcy Henton, Calgary Herald
Published on: March 10, 2015
Last Updated: March 10, 2015 4:51 PM MDT

Seniors Minister Jeff Johnson announced approved fire system upgrade projects in seniors residences during a news conference at Hardisty Care Centre in Edmonton on March 10, 2015.
Seniors Minister Jeff Johnson announced approved fire system upgrade projects in seniors residences during a news conference at Hardisty Care Centre in Edmonton on March 10, 2015.

All seniors lodges and long-term care facilities will be upgraded with fire suppression sprinklers through an $80-million program over the next three years, Seniors Minister Jeff Johnson said Tuesday.

Johnson said the Progressive Conservative government boosted funding for the retrofit by $10 million to tackle all of the facilities in the province after announcing a $70-million first phase of the program last October.

“We want to get rolling on this immediately,” Johnson told seniors and seniors housing officials at the Hardisty Care Centre in east Edmonton.

The money allocated from the province’s social housing fund will pay for upgrades in 6,500 units in 105 facilities around the province.

The first priority will be given to facilities housing seniors with mobility issues and those served by volunteer fire departments in rural areas, Johnson said.

The minister said he hopes to announce additional money to pay for the installation of fire suppression sprinklers in seniors’ assisted-living complexes in the near future.

Most of the province’s 24,000 seniors housing units aren’t fully equipped with fire suppression sprinkler systems because they weren’t required under the building code until 1990.

Ministry documents obtained under freedom of information legislation reveal that 455 of the province’s 657 seniors facilities are not fully equipped with sprinkler suppression systems.

Several provinces, including Ontario and Quebec moved to make sprinkler systems mandatory in seniors facilities after a fire at a nursing home in Quebec last year killed 32 seniors.

Sprinklers installed in the living units of seniors facilities suppress fires and give seniors with mobility issues more time to evacuate.

Joe Patterson, 79, whose wife has been residing in the 48-year old Hardisty Care Centre for four years, applauded the announcement.

“This is an old building and if you got a fire in it … it would go up in no time,” he said. “It’s a very good idea. It should have been done years ago.”

But NDP critic David Eggen pointed out that five months have passed since the government set aside funds for the sprinkler program, and so far not one has been installed.

Eggen said “for the sake of safety,” he wished the Tories had started installing sprinkler systems when they first announced the program in October.

“Considering the tragedy that happened in Quebec … we know that it’s incumbent on all of us to act in the most expeditious way,” he said. “Let’s not forget this announcement now will cover only about half of the facilities that require retrofitting.”

Johnson said it was important to survey the facility operators to determine their needs in order to plan for the upgrades.

“We want to be thoughtful about how we’re going to do this,” he said. “We could have been rash and just thrown money out the door. It might have cost us three times as much and we might not have had the impact that we really want to have.”

Johnson also rejected calls to make sprinkler systems mandatory, saying most of the buildings constructed before 1990 are owned or operated by the province anyway and it’s the government’s responsibility to upgrade the fire suppression systems.

Doug Mills, president of Alberta Senior Citizens Housing Association, said he was pleased the government was tackling all long-term care facilities and seniors lodges immediately.

“This has been a fruitful, collaborative effort,” he said.

John Pray of the Alberta Continuing Care Association said he appreciated the government is proceeding with the sprinkler program despite the fiscal crisis triggered by the collapse of oil prices.

“I think today’s announcement is just the start,” he said.

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