Two dead in fire at Ontario retirement home that lacked sprinklers

HAWKESBURY, ONT. — The Canadian Press

Fire crews attend to a fire at a retirement home in Hawkesbury, Ont., on Friday. (Tonya Fawn/The Canadian Press)

The president of Ontario’s Association of Fire Chiefs confirmed Saturday that there were no sprinklers in a Hawkesbury retirement home where an elderly couple died in a fire.

Chief Kevin Foster said the deaths were “even more tragic” as they come less than a day after a coroner’s inquest into a fatal 2009 fire at an Orillia, Ont., retirement home which also did not have sprinklers.

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The coroner’s report called for retroactive installation of sprinklers in vulnerable occupancies like retirement homes – a recommendation Chief Foster said must be acted on with urgency.

“The two fatalities and injuries in a non-sprinklered retirement home further identifies the necessity to mandate this important improvement as soon as possible,” Chief Foster said Saturday.

The provincial government announced a consultation on “vulnerable occupancies” earlier this year which is set to wrap next summer, but Chief Foster urged an acceleration in the project.

“The OAFC is hopeful that government recognizes the urgency to expedite the completion of the project and revises the target for implementation of the results prior to the end of this calendar year,” Chief Foster said.

Friday’s fire broke out around 9:30 p.m. at the Place Mont-Roc home, about 100 kilometres east of Ottawa, forcing nearly 90 residents to evacuate.

Some were taken to hospital as a precaution, while others were taken to a nearby retirement home or put in touch with family.

Police have identified the couple who died as Anne-Marie Bonin, 84, and Jean-Paul Bonin, 87.

Two firefighters were injured. One was taken to hospital for heat exhaustion was later released.

The cause of the blaze, which broke out on the third floor of the facility, is unknown and the Ontario Fire Marshal has been called in, said Haweskbury Fire Chief Ghislain Pigeon.

“Sadly two perished, but 85 made it out of a very difficult situation.” said Chief Pigeon, who commended the work of emergency crews which included a number of paramedics and volunteer firefighters from four stations.

The retirement home had been inspected in recent months and was up to code, he added. A sprinkler system was not part of building requirements.

“It was not a requirement when it was built and it is still not a requirement for this classification of building,” said Chief Pigeon.

The lack of sprinklers in the Hawkesbury retirement home highlights the issues identified by the coroner’s report in the Orillia blaze.

That June 2009 fire at the Muskoka Heights Retirement Residence killed four people and left six elderly residents critically injured – a toll fire officials called needless.

A number of the 39 recommendations made by the coroner’s inquest were related to automatic sprinklers and the retrofitting of such sprinklers in retirement homes and assisted living centres.

The Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs notes this was the fourth coroner’s jury to call for automatic sprinklers in nursing and retirement homes since 1980.

In addition, the jury recommended that smoke detectors be installed in all sleeping rooms, and automatic door closers and hold open devices be installed throughout the facilities.

The jurors also recommended that all fire departments should develop and implement regular mock evacuation programs for retirement residences.