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Lodge staff trained to handle emergencies

A devastating blaze at a Quebec seniors facility shows how deadly fires can be.

Ten people are confirmed dead and another 22 people are missing and presumed dead in L’Isle-Verte, Que. Crews are still digging through the rubble and ice at the scene of the tragedy.

In Red Deer, a local operator is confident that the training his staff is given and the response local emergency services personnel can provide can keep seniors safe.

Piper Creek Foundation executive director Geoff Olson said his organization does 10 fire drills per lodge each year.

“We do a lot of work with the residents on fire evacuation,” said Olson. “The residents know what our expectations are of them in an emergency, but even more so the staff are well trained to handle an emergency.”

Older lodges operated by Piper Creek do not have sprinkler systems throughout.

However, newer wings like that built at the Pines Lodge in 2005 do have sprinkler systems.

“We’re pretty lucky in Red Deer,” said Olson. “The response time to our lodges by emergency services is really minimal. Any time we’ve had to have an ambulance or even a fire truck stop by, even for a false alarm, the lag time is absolutely minimal. The fire is not going to get very far before those folks are onsite.”

Olson said they work closely with Red Deer Emergency Services.

All seniors care facilities built in recent years must have sprinkler systems. Since 1990, the province has required any new residence taller than four storeys to have a sprinkler system.

“Our (Red Deer) newer construction, by newer I mean in the last 10 to 15 years, retirement homes are fully sprinklered and fully fire-alarmed,” said Wes Van Bavel, Red Deer Emergency Services fire prevention officer.

Van Bavel separates seniors care facilities into residential or retirement and nursing homes. He said the residential or retirement homes generally have more able-bodied occupants and their evacuation procedures differ.

“They’re designed that people are expected to get out,” said Van Bavel. “We do have a few nursing homes that are protected properly and they are designed that you would move people horizontally from one area of the building to the other. Typically there would be a fire wall or some type of substantial separation, where we realize it is going to be difficult for people on oxygen or in beds, walkers or wheelchairs to evacuate.”

He also said staff at these buildings are trained as per the Alberta fire code in their respective fire safety plans. They are trained to move people to a different part of the building, isolating the fire and getting firefighters on scene.

“What we’re doing is compartmentalizing the fire to one area, getting people away and protecting them,” said Van Bavel. “The sprinkler system would usually control the fire, or minimize it until we get there and deal with it.”

Retirement homes are not designed for occupants to stay in their rooms and wait for the fire department to protect them in place.

“There’s a problem in some of these homes where people are instructed to stay in place and told the fire department will come and assess and evacuate you from the building if they think they need to,” said Van Bavel.

“That’s wrong and I have seen that in a number of retirement homes. These are set up as apartment buildings, they’re not designed for people to be protected in place, they have to get out. We see people aging and disabilities develop and rather than moving to a proper nursing home or care facility, a place that is better designed to protect people in place, they stay in these apartments and bring the health care they need in.”

This means there is the potential for a risk of people not getting up and leaving, or unable to get up and leave in an emergency.

Van Bavel said they do annual fire inspections on all retirement and nursing homes and they offer fire awareness and evacuation training to staff and tenants at these homes as well.

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