SEIU Healthcare is pleased with the Wynne government’s announcement this week that sprinkler systems will now be mandatory for all retirement and long-term care homes in the province.

It was a long time coming!

How long? Nearly thirty years, four inquests, at least two previous attempts to pass legislation, and 45 unnecessary deaths later, and we have finally got a concrete commitment from a government in Ontario to make sprinklers mandatory.

Sprinklers have been required in retirement homes built after 1998, but sprinklers haven’t been required in the nearly 2000 privately operated retirement homes and long-term facilities built before that time – until now.

Now all retirement and long-term care facilities, regardless of age, will have to be retrofitted with sprinkler systems as a tool to fight fires within the next five years, which can prevent fires from spreading, and add valuable time to the evacuation of elderly and infirm residents, and staff.

SEIU Healthcare does see this as a safety issue for our members working in these homes, and we’re proud to have stood with the Fire Marshal’s Office, the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs, and groups representing residents who called on repeated governments to make sprinklers mandatory.

The 45 resident deaths and countless injuries due to fire in retirement homes since 1980 could have been prevented in our view, if the political will and cooperation from the private and profitable retirement home industry had been there.

Unbelievably, the association representing private nursing home operators in the province opposed the mandatory requirement as recently as 2010, citing the prohibitive “financial cost” to its members, while maintaining that having smoke detectors and fire alarms in these facilities was prevention enough!

But it should be noted that the Muskoka Heights retirement home, where tragically 2 residents lost their lives in a fire in 2009, had passed all fire safety codes, but did not have a sprinkler system.

According to the Ontario Fire Marshall sprinklers save lives and we can’t help but feel that the Muskoka deaths – and many of the other 45 tragic deaths of our elderly retirement home residents – could have been prevented.

We don’t just see our small role in the government’s decision to make sprinklers mandatory as a win for our members, but a win for all Ontarians. We’re proud as well of the fact that the government chose to make the announcement at one of the many homes whose staff we’re proud to represent, as they are the heart of healthcare.