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May 5, 2013
By Laura King


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May 5, 2013, Toronto – Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is expected to signal her government's support for legislating mandatory sprinklers in retirement homes Monday morning when she addresses delegates to the 61st meeting of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC).

May 5, 2013, Toronto – Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is expected to signal her government’s support for legislating mandatory sprinklers in retirement homes Monday morning when she addresses delegates to the 61st meeting of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC).

Such a position by Wynne – whose minority Liberal government soon faces a precarious vote on its new budget and, regardless, may endure an election later this year – would align the government with the OAFC and the recommendations of a technical advisory committee that has exhaustively examined the issue of fire safety for seniors and other vulnerable Ontarians. It would also give the government time to sort out critical issues of timing of retrofits, and to use an election campaign to detail a comprehensive legislative and regulatory approach to the issue.

Wynne will be the first premier to address the OAFC (more on that below), and it seems unimaginable that she will do anything other than make the most of her pre-election appearance to this influential group. And to those who closely follow the issue, that points to sprinklers.

While it may not be unusual for politicians to speak to gatherings of voters – Wynne has spoken twice before to the OAFC conference as transportation minister – former premier Dalton McGuinty had been notably absent from the OAFC’s conferences. In fact, no Ontario premier has ever addressed the OAFC.

So Wynne’s appearance, scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Monday, would lead a trained observer to gather that an announcement of some significance will be trotted out by the minority Liberals.

Anyone who has paid attention to fire prevention and fire safety in Ontario over the last umpteen years – and primarily since the 2009 fire at the Muskoka Heights retirement home in Orillia that led to four fatalities, the subsequent coroner’s inquest that called for the mandatory retrofitting of retirement homes with sprinklers, and the pace at which the government has moved on the sprinklers issue – might deduce that said announcement may, however, be long on platitudes but short on specifics.

Presumably, Wynne, and Madeleine Meilleur, the minister of community safety and correctional services, will tell the OAFC’s almost 500 delegates in Toronto this week that the government accepts the recommendations of the technical advisory committee that and will move forward on the issue. Given the receptive audience, and what I understand has been a bit of a rush to make the announcement, I’m guessing that details will come later.

Regardless, Monday’s announcement is a victory – albeit a long, hard-fought, sometimes overwhelmingly frustrating victory – for the OAFC, which has been pushing, lobbying and working for mandatory retrofitting of homes for seniors for years; 45 seniors have died in fires in Ontario retirement homes since 1980. About 200,000 seniors and other vulnerable Ontarians live in residences that are exempt from sprinkler laws; many of those homes are owned by the provincial government.

Fire Marshal Ted Wieclawek announced the TAC on April 12, 2012, a day after the Toronto Star ran a front-page expose lambasting the province for inadequate staffing and lax sprinkler system laws in care facilities.

The review was expected to take a year but was expedited in July after a two people died in a fire at a seniors home in Hawkesbury, Ont. The technical advisory committee released its report and recommendations in January.

It was almost a year ago, in May 2012, that the jury in the Muskoka Heights inquest called for extensive changes to legislation and fire and building codes to better protect seniors.

The six-person jury issued 39 recommendations – some with multiple sections – including mandatory retrofitting of retirement homes with automatic sprinklers “without exception”, and the installation of smoke alarms in all sleeping rooms that are connected to the fire-alarm system.

That inquest was the fourth to recommend mandatory retrofitting of seniors homes with sprinklers.

Let’s get on with it.


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