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Bill Horbach

by Kristen McEwen

Following the tragic fire that left 27 dead in a seniors’ care home in L’Isle Verte, the topic of care home safety is front and centre.

The 52 unit seniors’ residence was only partially equipped with fire sprinklers. The cause of the fire has yet to be discovered.

Regulations in Quebec do not require private care homes to be installed with sprinklers where some residents are mobile.

Administrators of similar sized care homes in Regina say they are prepared should fire break out.

Brightwater Senior Living and Memory Care Community is a private care home in Regina that currently accommodates 43 residents ranging in mobility, from wheelchairs to those who are fully mobile. 

Early in construction, the facility encountered a fire of its own. The firewall that divides the building prevented the fire from spreading.

“The building did have a construction accident and part of the building burnt down. And the fire wall saved a major portion of the building - the central core and the other wing -and so the fire wall does work,” said Bill Horbach, executive director of the facility. “The fire wall has been proven. Not that we wanted that to happen but it just shows how safe this building is.”

The fire wall is designed to contain the fire to one side of the building for four to six hours.

In Saskatchewan, all private care homes in Saskatchewan are required to provide proper documentation to be licensed by Saskatchewan Health and adhere to the Saskatchewan Health Licensee Handbook.

Under the handbook, sprinklers are required in all private care homes with six or more residents. If a care home has less than six residents, the only requirement to install fire sprinklers within a care home is if one or more residents are not able to move without assistance.

Brightwater also has an evacuation plan in case of emergency or fire. Fire drills are held three times every month, one during the day, evening and night shifts.

Horbach says residents are engaged in the entire fire drill process. “If they’re sleeping they have to get up and get involved in the procedure,” Bill said. “We do tell them what’s happening and even though people here have memory loss due to Alzheimer’s and dementia they enjoy participating …  It’s reassuring to them and it becomes part of the routine here.”

In case of emergency the building is locked down. However, once the fire alarm is pulled the doors open completely.

“The doors are no longer locked and our staff immediately goes into their responses and moving the residents if there was a real fire, we would know in minutes and the staff are called into work and we have an area close to the building that we would move the residents.”

The facility is equipped with fire alarms, heat detectors, carbon dioxide detectors and a sprinkler system directly connected to the city water and escape routes on a map in each of the residential neighbourhoods.

Smoking is not allowed in the building but there is a designated area at the back of the facility. Residents who smoke are monitored and are not allowed to keep cigarettes in their room.

“They have to go to the nurse and the nurse will give them a cigarette and ensure that it’s safe for them to smoke,” said Horbach. “So they have some dignity, (they) continue as if they would be in their own home.”

Wintergreene Estates is another Regina care facility. It is comprised of 86 suites and apartments, including 42 private care rooms. Residents’ mobility ranges from needing a wheelchair to being completely mobile.

The facility also does not allow smoking on the care side of the estate, said building manager Glenn Edginton.

There are a few residents that are allowed to smoke in their apartments or suites if they choose to, however this means they are charged a higher damage deposit.

The fire system is inspected yearly, and every month Edgington personally checks the fire extinguishers are charged. He added that the sprinklers, located in every room in the facility, are checked every one to two weeks.

Fire drills are also performed monthly at varied times during the day. The care side of the estates is fire proof, Edgington said.

“The walls made of steel, cement between the floors,” he said. “Every floor is fire proofed as well.”