Consultation on fire safety for vulnerable residents in Ontario - summary of results
Consultation on fire safety for vulnerable residents in Ontario - summary of results
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The ‘Consultation on Fire Safety for Vulnerable Residents in Ontario’ was initiated by the Ontario government in the fall of 2010 to determine what next steps can be taken to improve fire safety in occupancies housing vulnerable Ontarians.
The Ontario government is now reviewing and considering all of the input from the consultation.
Overview of the consultation process
The fire safety consultation was conducted between November 2010 and July 2011 to obtain feedback from fire safety partners on how to improve fire safety in occupancies housing vulnerable Ontarians. The consultation focused on several key fire safety areas, including:
- fire prevention and education
- fire protection and inspection
- legislation and regulatory tools
- enforcement and penalties
The consultation was open for public comment with a focus on ‘care’ and ‘care and treatment’ occupancies that provide housing or other accommodation to vulnerable Ontarians.
The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services’ online consultation, held from November 2010 until March 2011, received a total of 238 completed consultation responses from the following respondent groups:
- fire community
- retirement homes
- other occupancies
- advocacy groups/agencies/associations.
The online consultation process identified key themes and trends that required further investigation. Follow-up discussions were held with key fire safety partners in June 2011 to provide clarification and additional input with regard to the identified issues.
Input and feedback received through the consultation is presented below. This summary reflects key findings which relate to the focus of the consultation.
There was a wide range of responses both within and between groups. For many consultation questions, the responses split into two polarized response patterns. The summary of these trends should be considered with this in mind.
Improved fire safety
Respondents indicated a need for regularly scheduled inspections, inspections upon request, and consistency of inspection services across the province.
Overall, 74 % of respondents disagreed that the current framework/practice for fire safety inspections by municipal fire departments is sufficient and 96% of respondents agreed that establishing a prescribed frequency of fire safety inspections for occupancies housing vulnerable residents is an important tool for fire safety and prevention.
The following suggestions emerged for improvements to fire safety inspections:
- the development of a provincial standard for inspections and compliance tools
- provincial standards and inspection requirements should be reflective of the size and type of facility and/or vulnerability of residents
- increased fire department resources to conduct inspections
- need for legislated inspections.
Training/Ontario Fire Code
A lack of knowledge of the current requirements under the Ontario Fire Code was highlighted across many responses. There was also support for changes to the Ontario Fire Code.
- 56% of respondents agreed that owners/operators are currently complying with the regulatory requirements of the Ontario Fire Code, while 31% of respondents remained neutral, selecting neither agree nor disagree
- 45% of respondents remained neutral, selecting neither agree nor disagree, pertaining to whether the existing Ontario Fire Code requirements for ‘care’ and ‘care and treatment’ occupancies are sufficient, while 40% of respondents disagreed
- 48% of respondents remained neutral, selecting neither agree nor disagree, pertaining to whether the enforcement of the existing Ontario Fire Code, including existing retrofit requirements, is adequate, while 32% of respondents disagreed.
Respondents indicated a need for standardized training of owners/operators and staff pertaining to fire safety and obligations under the Ontario Fire Code. It was noted that training should include staff obligations as they relate to evacuations involving vulnerable individuals. In conjunction with an enhanced inspection regime, it was suggested that owners/operators should provide staff training records at the time of inspection.
Respondents indicated that owners/operators have the responsibility to educate their occupants on the contents of the fire safety plan, conduct regular fire drills and retain records to aid in inspection procedures.
In addition, 95% of respondents agreed that residents have a role to play in terms of fire safety and prevention. Respondents indicated that occupants have the responsibility to participate in fire safety education sessions to the extent that they are able and also to ensure they do not engage in unsafe practices (e.g., smoking, hoarding, cooking in rooms, and using unauthorized appliances such as space heaters).
Other issues were identified regarding occupant responsibility including ensuring that occupants can report fire safety violations without fear of retribution from owners/operators, as well as imposing fines on the occupants for engaging in unsafe practices.
Public education pertaining to fire safety was highlighted as 42% of respondents agreed and 47% of respondents disagreed that municipalities are currently meeting their obligations regarding public education and fire prevention programs within the community.
Fire safety plans
A common theme from respondents was the need for comprehensive fire safety plans, developed with and approved by the municipal fire department. Respondents indicated that the plan should also be posted, all staff should be fully trained on it, and occupants should be educated on the contents of the plan. It was suggested that the establishment of best practice guidelines for owners/operators to follow in the development of fire safety plans and fire drills may be helpful.
Respondents provided varied responses pertaining to enforcement of the Ontario Fire Code and fines. Some respondents were supportive of higher fines to increase compliance, while others indicated the current system is sufficient. There were suggestions that facilities in violation should be given the opportunity to improve and then be reassessed before fines are levied, and collected fines be used to fund retrofits and improve the safety of the homes.
Respondents indicated that there is a need for consistency in enforcement both from inspectors and the court system. Additional education of fire safety issues for the court system was suggested to improve enforcement consistency across the province.
Another theme that emerged was the potential to provide tax rebates to owners/operators found in compliance with the Ontario Fire Code.
Views on the need for additional resources to improve fire safety were identified by respondents across all areas. Specifically, the need for additional staff was a strong theme. Respondents indicated a need for additional staff at municipal fire departments with some suggesting a legislated and funded position and others a legislated staffing ratio for residences housing vulnerable Ontarians.
Other features for retrofit
Views on the need for other retrofit features varied depending on the respondent. Themes that emerged included the need for retrofit features such as strobe light alarms, self-closing doors, and features that address the safety needs of those who are deaf or hard of hearing.
More than 80% of respondents agreed that changes to the Ontario Fire Code in terms of features such as zone fire separations, self-closing hardware for suite doors, remote connection for fire alarm safety, emergency lighting upgrades, and voice communication for buildings more than three stories high should be required on a retrofit basis in existing buildings housing vulnerable residents that were constructed before 1998.
However, there was also a concern that some retrofits could be hazardous to occupants (e.g. self-closing doors are too heavy for some individuals) or may make a group home feel like an institution. It was suggested that, whenever possible, retrofits be done in such a manner as to minimize aesthetic impact on the facility.
Overall, 42% of respondents disagreed and 53% of respondents agreed that, should the above retrofits become mandatory for existing occupancies housing vulnerable residents, some occupancies should be exempt from this requirement due to the circumstances cited above.
Overall, 50% of respondents agreed and 41% of respondents remained neutral that the installation of fire sprinklers should be required on a retrofit basis in existing buildings housing vulnerable residents that were constructed before 1998.
As with the other retrofits outlined above, 43% of respondents disagreed and 53% of respondents agreed that should the installation of fire sprinklers become mandatory for existing occupancies housing vulnerable residents, some occupancies should be exempt from the requirement. Such exemptions would be reflective of the number of residents and alternate fire safety retrofits in place in the facility.
Operational and Financial Impacts of Retrofits and Exemptions
There was broad agreement across respondents that there will be operational (79%) and financial (98%) impacts on owners/operators and residents associated with the installation of fire safety features/retrofits.
There was also broad agreement across respondents that there will be operational (77%) and financial (98%) impacts on owners/operators and residents associated with the installation of fire sprinklers.
Summary of key findings
Overall, respondents were supportive of changes in the following areas:
- enhanced inspections with clear mandate and parameters
- training for owners/operators and staff, as well as for the court system
- consistency in enforcement and application of fines/penalties
- public/occupant responsibility
- need for comprehensive fire safety plans
- enhanced public awareness
- increased staffing resources
- additional municipal resources
- installation of automatic sprinklers and other fire safety retrofits.
However, respondent groups had varied positions on the need for changes related to funding, exemptions and increases in fines.