The Ontario government will not re-introduce legislation mandating the retrofitting of retirement homes with fire sprinklers, but a provincial spokesperson suggested this week that the Liberals are preparing to introduce regulations to strengthen the fire code.
Last September, Bill 54, which was supported by The Co-operators Group Ltd., passed second reading and was referred to the Standing Committee on Justice Policy. One politician and former insurance broker who supported it said Bill 54, dubbed the Ontario Fire Protection and Prevention Act, would result in better loss ratios for insurance firms. Had it been passed into law, it would have required operators of retirement homes to retrofit them with automatic sprinklers by 2018.
But the private member's bill died on the order paper when Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty prorogued the Legislature in October.
"The government will not be introducing a [new] bill," a spokesperson for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services stated in an e-mail this week to Canadian Underwriter.
Read more: Co-operators presses for more fire sprinklers in new homes, offers new premium discounts
That's because the government has since received a report with recommendations from a technical advisory committee headed by the provincial fire marshal. The committee, originally announced in April, was asked to make recommendations on a strategy for fire safety. The recently submitted report included recommendations on "an implementation plan to require the installation of sprinklers in occupancies that house vulnerable Ontarians," plus other retrofits such as automatic door closers. It also included recommendations on annual inspections and staff training.
"The recommendations can be implemented through changes to the Fire Code," through regulation rather than legislation, the Community Safety and Correctional Services spokesperson wrote. "The ministry has reviewed the recommendations (of the Fire Marshal's technical advisory committee) and is preparing for the next stage in the process of making the necessary changes to the Fire Code."
When asked for a timeline, the spokesperson said the government is aiming to make the changes “as soon as possible.” The changes would not apply to residential apartment buildings for seniors only, although the Ontario Building Code requires all new residential buildings four storeys or higher to have automated sprinklers.
In addition to retirement homes and long-term care facilities, the regulations would apply to group homes and supportive housing, where residents receive “special or supervisory care,” plus hospitals.
NDP keeping an eye on progress
Bill 54 was tabled by Paul Miller, the New Democratic Party Member of Provincial Parliament for the riding of Hamilton East-Stoney Creek. He said in an interview Wednesday he will be watching carefully to see how quickly the advisory committee's recommendations on fire safety are implemented.
"I'm going to keep an eye on this and make sure all the requests I had, as well as the fire chiefs' and the Fire Marshal's, are implemented into the regulations and we'll see what kind of time period they put on it and how quickly they will implement it," Miller said, adding has not seen the report, which has not been made public.
"It probably meets the goal, but it certainly was a hard road to get them to go there," he said.
In June 2010, Miller introduced Bill 92, Mandating Sprinklers in All Ontario Retirement Homes Act, 2010, which was referred to committee in October of that year. That bill did not proceed for public hearings and was not passed into law before the October, 2011 election. The ill-fated Bill 54 was intended to replace Bill 92.
During the second reading of Bill 54, Miller said in the legislature that since 1980, there had been 48 deaths of seniors due to fire and smoke inhalation since 1980. These included a couple in their 80s who died in Hawkesbury last May.
"Hawkesbury really brought it back home," Miller told Canadian Underwriter. "I think they were getting a lot of pressure from the fire chiefs and the Fire Marshal was on board. There were three Coroners Inquests and they all recommended sprinklers."
Another NDP MPP who spoke in favour of Bill 54 was Teresa Armstrong, a former insurance broker who now represents the riding of London Fanshawe.
"Commercial buildings with sprinkler systems are going to have a different rate of insurance, compared to a commercial building that doesn't have a sprinkler system," Armstrong said during the second reading of Bill 54 in the legislature. "That certainly won't offset the cost of implementing a sprinkler system, but it certainly will be a better loss ratio for an insurance company, which will then also perhaps roll back to those commercial institutions where they can have a little bit of a break."