Nursing Home Fire leaves 3 Dead, Dozens Missing

Night of horror in L'Isle-Verte
Photo: Francois Drouin, infodimanche.com

A deadly fire broke out overnight in a Canadian nursing home and The Toronto Star reports Quebec police are in “mass casualty management mode.”

The facility located in L’Isle-Verte, Quebec was home to more than 50 elderly residents, many of them unable to walk on their own. The National police of Quebec have confirmed 3 deaths, 13 residents transferred to local hospitals and 10  others taken to another senior home. About 30 people remain missing.

Eyewitnesses described a horrifying scene, with family members trying to reach residents trapped on the balcony, only to watch them perish in the flames.

According to infodimache.com, which posted video of the blaze, firefighters helped some residents to evacuate, but were unable to rescue everyone. “These are elderly, some of which are very limited mobility. Others were afraid and they hid under blankets,” said local Fire Chief Yvan Charron.*

Authorities say the building was equipped with fire and smoke alarms and a “partial” sprinkler system.

Lack of Federal Regulations

As Americans, we’d like to think such a tragedy could never occur in our country. Surely, we have regulations requiring nursing homes to have sprinkler systems throughout the entire building. Unbelievably, until last year, U.S. federal regulations only required some nursing homes to have automatic sprinkler systems.

A recent article by the New York Times reports,

Automatic sprinklers, the most effective protection against fires, have been mandated in any new nursing home certified by Medicare and Medicaid, or in new construction added to an existing facility, since 2000. But for older nursing homes, there was no such regulation until August 2008 — and the industry, complaining about high costs, was given five years to comply.

Despite the new regulations, many facilities have not fully complied. The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care has diligently tracked the progress of nursing homes across the country and published a list of non-compliant facilities on their website. Most recently updated in December 2013, their list contains the names of over 700 nursing homes across the country that have yet to either install automatic sprinklers or only have partial systems—including five in Ohio. [NOTE: The list may contain errors or may not reflect the most current information.]

Do your Homework

When selecting a nursing home or other long-term facility, make sure you ask about their policies.

  • Are emergency exits clearly marked? Check to make sure there is an evacuation plan in place that involves all staff and is practiced regularly.
  • Are there safety systems in place such as alternative exits, smoke detectors, and sprinklers throughout the entire facility?
  • Is the facility well maintained and free of clutter?
  • What is their smoking policy?
  • Does the nursing home have an emergency evacuation plan and hold regular fire drills?
  • What is the staff-to-resident ratio? (Keep in mind; staff levels may fluctuate at night, on weekends and holidays.)
  • Ask to see their most current Health & Fire Safety Inspection Reports. The nursing home must have the report of the most recent state or federal survey of the facility available for you to look at. You can also find reports on most State agency websites, as well as on medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare

Fire and evacuation plans for nursing homes have gained nationwide attention since fires in Hartford, Connecticut and Nashville, Tennessee claimed the lives of 31 residents in 2003. However, the deadliest nursing home fire took place in Ohio in 1963 when flames destroyed the Golden Age Nursing Home in Fitchville Township. Although more than 60 people died, the fire didn’t make national news because it occurred just hours after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

 

Sources:

Quebec seniors home fire: 3 dead, 30 missing” by Allan Woods, The Toronto Star, January 23, 2014.

Nuit d’horreur à L’Isle-Verte” (Night of horror in L’Isle-Verte) by Francois Drouin, infodimanche.com, January 23, 2014.
*Originally reported in French; translation by Google Chrome.

Many Nursing Homes Operate Without Adequate Sprinkler Systems” by Paula Span, New York Times, September 30, 2013.

 

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