For the past several years work has taken me regularly to the pretty town of Hawkesbury, about an hour east of Ottawa. I have met wonderful people in Hawkesbury, have made some friends, and contributed a little bit to the economy.
Two weeks ago Hawkesbury earned the dubious distinction of being yet another Ontario town where seniors have died unnecessarily in retirement home fires. Since 1980, 46 seniors have died in this manner, many of whom (maybe all) could have been saved had the homes they were living in been equipped with automatic sprinklers.
Imagine being wakened at night by the sound of a smoke detector, or by the smell of smoke or the sight of flames. Now imagine that you can’t easily get to your wheelchair, or reach your cane, or get out of bed by yourself. Maybe a sense of confusion impairs your ability to respond to the danger. All you can do is hope that the firefighters get to you quickly.
This is not a new issue in Ontario. For years now there have been calls for sprinklers to be installed in all retirement homes. Fire chiefs and firefighters have been among the most vocal advocates. After all, what could possibly be more heartbreaking than carrying frail, confused seniors out of a burning building? Maybe knowing that you can’t get to them all.
Would this be expensive? No doubt it would. Is extinguishing a burning building that, by the way, is full of vulnerable seniors, expensive? I’m sure it is. But cost concerns can surely be the only reason that instead of action, the province is undertaking a technical study.
Shame on successive governments for leaving some of our most vulnerable citizens at risk. Shame on us all for not being more vocal. Our seniors deserve better.
The recent 2011 Census tells us there are nearly 5 million seniors in Canada and that near seniors (people aged 60 – 64) grew faster than any other group and will continue to do so. So that means many of us will be residing in these retirement homes in the not too distant future. I want my retirement home to have a sprinkler system. I want all seniors in retirement homes to be better protected. Surely we owe it to our seniors to keep them safe in their last years.