The Jan. 23 fire in a senior’s facility in L’Isle-Verte, Quebec, is still making national headlines with the Quebec provincial police now confirming at least 28 fatalities and refusing to rule out any potential cause, including the possibility of a criminal act.
With a tragic story like this so prominent in the news it would be understandable for local families with elderly relatives living in care to be anxious about their loved one’s safety and security.
However, Interior Health Authority (IHA) facilities in the Greater Trail area come under regular inspection and scrutiny from a number of sides.
Karl Hardt, communications officer for the IHA, said in an email that all facilities under their purview have up-to-code fire alarms and sprinkler systems in place as part of a priority initiative that was launched eight years ago.
“Fire systems are tested annually and fire drills are conducted at all Interior Health sites a minimum of once per month,” Hardt continued. “All new larger residential care facilities and assisted living facilities – IH or private partner operated – are required to be built to the current B.C. Building Code standards; this includes having sprinklers installed in these buildings.”
Inspections of care facilities to ensure that standards are maintained in the area are performed by members of Kootenay Boundary Regional Fire and Rescue (KBRFR).
“We perform the annual inspections on all the facilities,” said KBRFR Chief, Terry Martin. “We work with maintenance personnel on any concerns or work that may need to be done and all the emergency equipment, for example lights and fire extinguishers, is tested to make sure it’s all functional.”
Martin said that, as part of their inspections, sprinkler systems technicians and alarm systems technicians are brought in to perform the inspections in their respective areas of expertise.
In addition to the regular inspections and fire drills, the facilities are also required by law to have a plan in place.
“Under the Community Care and Assisted Living Act, all licensed facilities, IH and private, are required to have an emergency plan in place,” said Hardt. “It covers evacuation procedures in case of fire or another emergency and ensures continuity of care for residents.”
The news of the L’Isle-Verte fire was particularly striking to Kootenay West MLA, Katrine Conroy, as the NDP’s official opposition critic for seniors and long term care.
“That’s just a terrible situation, a horrific loss,” said Conroy. “As far as we understand, B.C. has good regulations in place for sprinkler systems. My concern is more the availability of staff and the experience of the staff in doing evacuations, in the middle of the night for instance.”
Conroy said that the B.C. Care Providers Association has been working with Minister of Health, Terry Lake, to ensure sufficient standards and regulations are in place to protect seniors and those in care and has made reasonable progress.
“I know that new buildings have to have sprinklers in place but I’m not so sure about the older ones, that’s a bit of a worry,” Conroy said. “This is just not something anyone would ever want to see happen again.”