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Nightmare scenario

A severe fire in a retirement home is a scary notion for the city’s fire chief.
Thunder Bay Fire Rescue chief John Hay. (Matt Vis,

A severe fire in a retirement home is a scary notion for the city’s fire chief.

Thunder Bay Fire Rescue chief John Hay said mobility issues for residents has the potential to create a disastrous situation, especially if reaction time is delayed.

“It’s very challenging to move people who can’t move themselves,” Hay said on Friday.

“In the city of Thunder Bay we require fire safety plans for those types of occupancies and within those fire safety plans is an evacuation plan and the best chance of saving lives is having people evacuated before the fire department gets there.”

As of Sunday, 10 people have been confirmed dead with another 22 believed to have died following the devastating Jan. 23 blaze that destroyed a seniors’ residence in L’Isle-Verte, Que.

According to a Quebec Department of Health document, the residence only had a partial sprinkler system.

Media reports detail that two-thirds of the building was rendered inaccessible by the fire, with crews only able to get to the remaining portion.

Ontario has seen at least four fatal fires in seniors’ apartments or retirement homes within the last five years, which prompted a coroner’s inquest.

That inquest resulted in 39 recommendations related to safety measures to be taken in retirement homes and assisted living facilities, mostly centring around sprinkler systems.

A provincial law passed at the start of the year dictates immediate deadlines for fire safety planning and safety regulations for new buildings, as well as compliance dates for retrofitting existing buildings.

One of those compliance dates states that a sprinkler system must be installed by 2025.

Hay said while sprinklers likely won’t douse a severe fire, they can provide a vital lifeline and extend the amount of time for people to evacuate a burning building.

“Sprinklers are a great tool for lengthening the amount of time from being alerted to a fire alarm or smoke detector and getting out,” he said. “The ability to get out can be lengthened with sprinklers and the property lost can be lessened with sprinklers.”

Each facility has to produce a fire safety plan to be approved by the fire department as well as an annual fire drill conducted at or replicating the lowest staffing level.

Hay also said his department is working with the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre to address overcrowding issues and ensure compliance with the fire code.

(With files from The Canadian Press)


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