Quebecers horrified by seniors fire deaths

At least 24 seniors in a private nursing home at L’Isle-Verte in eastern Quebec died when fire engulfed the mostly wooden residence. Many believe the deaths were preventable if several obvious measures had been taken. Most important (and most contentious) is the absence of a sprinkler system even though the provincial code requires them – but makes bizarre exceptions depending on the mobility of the residents. Another factor was the construction of wood. Ironically, a part of the building that was added recently and used different materials was not burned. Finally, the staffing at night when the fire occurred was reduced. For me the most baffling argument is one put forward by a fire prevention officer who claimed that smoke detectors were more important than sprinklers because people die of smoke inhalation, not of burns. True; but somehow the fact that sprinklers extinguish fires before they get to the smoking stage seems to have escaped this expert. She goes to suggest that  there is no “magic solution” to fires like that at L’Isle-Verte. I see this as an invitation to inaction. The solution is  not magic; it is basic science, solid technology, and injury prevention of the highest order. In case she somehow forgot, smoke comes from fire. She acknowledges that sprinklers prevent a fire from spreading, and then argues that what is needed is more smoke detectors not sprinklers! This is an astonishing observation, especially coming from someone with her responsibilities. Her remarks would certainly lend support to those who oppose establishing sprinkler systems in all homes, and especially in facilities serving the elderly and infirm. She implies we cannot insist on requiring both. It is like saying that for car safety you cannot have both brakes and mirrors; you must choose one or the other. Just because the cost of smoke detectors is much less than that of a sprinkler system is no reason not to require both. It is nonsense to say ‘smoke detectors are more important in saving lives’ and thereby imply that sprinklers are not needed. Her bizarre views should not be used as an excuse for avoiding the installation of these systems; they have proven to be highly effective and could save many many lives.

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