It’s no wonder families across Canada are talking about safety at seniors homes these days. After all, it’s been less than a month since a devastating blaze at a residence in L’Isle-Verte, Que. left 28 tenants dead.
At Maplewood Apartments in St. John’s, the topic no doubt has come up often.
So you can imagine the gut-wrenching panic that must have set in when a fire broke out late Thursday afternoon and smoke quickly billowed through the Shaw Street apartment building.
The building is not technically a personal care facility, so a sprinkler system was not mandatory. But most of the residents are elderly, and several have trouble with mobility.
There was no time to dress properly or grab valuables. Everyone had to rush out into the street, just as a snowstorm was starting to envelop the city.
It was a monumental challenge: traumatized seniors, frightened family members and slippery roads — a sure recipe for disaster.
And yet, it wasn’t.
It wasn’t because authorities in this city were prepared for it.
It was an anticipated scenario and everyone knew their part.
Fire crews were on the scene promptly and kept the front of the building clear in case an aerial ladder was needed. Ambulances hovered at the top of the street, out of the way but ready to dart in when needed.
Metrobuses were dispatched to transport cold and frightened tenants to city hall, which was set up as a collection point.
Despite deteriorating road conditions, these non-emergency vehicles managed to arrive within half an hour.
The Red Cross and Salvation Army were on scene within minutes, and St. Clare’s Hospital immediately went into crisis mode in preparation for larger than usual emergency arrivals.
Despite a veneer of chaos at times and some nasty cases of smoke inhalation, it was a plan that worked. In fact, given the circumstances, it could hardly have worked better. A tip of the hat to all involved.
The Shaw Street fire still raises questions, though.
The main one: what should the regulations be for facilities that lie in the grey area when it comes to seniors homes?
The standards for designated care homes are high.
Every type of safety measure and service is meticulously spelled out in regulations. And that includes a sprinkler system.
In many modern facilities, in fact, seniors are advised to hang tight; their apartments shield them from danger.
Maplewood Apartments housed primarily seniors, but was not under any of the same obligations.
Of course, able-bodied seniors are free to live where they wish, and landlords are similarly free to take on tenants as they see fit.
But when smoke is in the air, the possible consequences of those choices become all too evident.