Sprinkler retrofit ‘exciting’ says Housing Authority CAO

Though an incident like the January 2014 fire at a nursing home in L'Isle Verte, Que. is unlikely to happen

Though an incident like the January 2014 fire at a nursing home in L’Isle Verte, Que. is unlikely to happen at one of Stettler’s seniors residential facilities, news that the government is dedicating funds for sprinkler upgrades is welcome.

“We’re very excited,” Betty Tschritter, CAO of the Stettler Housing Authority, said about the news. The government is spending $80 million, up from the $70 million originally announced, to upgrade 105 housing and continuing care facilities across the province, including units at Paragon Place (including the addition), Willow Creek Lodge and Heart Haven.

Between the three sites, 202 units will be retrofitted with the new sprinkler system. A total of 4,700 units will be retrofitted in all.

Tschritter said that when news of the sprinkler retrofit filtered down last year, like many she filled out the paperwork to see the Stettler Housing Authority’s sites considered as well.

“We know we’ve been chosen, but we don’t have any details yet,” she said.

The three-year project was initiated in response to the fire in Quebec, according to the government.

Though safety regulations in Alberta mean sites today come equipped with sprinkler systems, like in Quebec sites built before those rules came into effect were grandfathered. Most of the units selected for upgrades were built before 1990 and the regulations requiring sprinkler systems.

“We didn’t have to make changes after the (Quebec) fire,” Tschritter said. “What we have in common was we house seniors. That’s all.”

She said that because of the housing authority’s safety practices, including regular drills, inspections, and the installation of fire doors, smoke and heat sensors in each unit, and 24-hour staff, the chance of such a devastating fire is unlikely.

Still, the news of the sprinklers is welcome.

“It’s another layer of safety,” she said.

The L’Isle Verte nursing home fire started shortly before 1 a.m. The nursing home, which consisted of an older building without sprinkler systems and a new addition with, was seriously damaged in the fire.

The old part of the building burned to the ground, claiming the lives of 28 confirmed victims, with four missing and presumed dead. Fifteen people were injured.

Several problems with the response to the fire, beyond that of the lack of a sprinkler system in the old part of the building, was cited in a coroner’s report. They included a lack of overnight staff, a lack of fire drills, and problems with the response of the fire department.