Home' Australian Ageing Agenda : AAA Jan-Feb 2012 Contents SPRINKLER
The cost of retrofitting such
systems to bring older facilities
up to higher standards is a
significant issue for the aged care
industry, leading to the question
of whether the government
should help foot the bill, as well
as scepticism about how well the
systems actually work.
Peter Chenoweth, a health
and aged care specialist building
consultant and director of CH
Group, told the Sydney Morning
Herald's Adele Horin that the
jury was still out on the value of
sprinklers, as "they don't come
on until there's a fairly developed
fire and [by then] people may
have [already] died of smoke
In 2007, Aged Care
Association Australia (ACAA) told
an Australian Building Codes
Board inquiry into fire sprinklers
in residential care buildings
that there was no evidence to
demonstrate their effectiveness.
A range of other aged care
industry representatives and
supporters -- including CH Group
-- also told the building codes
inquiry they saw little reason to
increase nationwide fire safety
standards in residential care.
Last September, the
made fire sprinklers mandatory
in nursing homes, with the
Opposition crying foul over the
lack of assistance for aged
care providers. The Victorian
Government did the same almost
a decade ago, following a long-
running inquest into a fire in 1996
at Kew Cottages where nine
disabled residents lost their lives.
Aged care specialist lawyer, Victor
Harcourt, acted for the Victorian
Government in the Kew
Cottages coronial inquest. He
says at the time State Coroner
Lessons to be learned
SHOULD SPRINKLERS be
mandatory in all nursing homes?
It was the question on everyone's
minds as Australia tried to make
sense of last November's horrific
fire at the Quakers Hill nursing
home in Sydney.
The fire was allegedly
deliberately lit. Like so many
terrible, malicious crimes, an
explanation of motivation or intent
may never be fully understood.
But after such an
especially involving vulnerable
aged people, the need to delve
deeper into possible prevention
strategies is understandable.
Just two days after the fire,
NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell
indicated that regulatory
changes would be considered
as a result, telling journalists
he had requested a report on
building requirements for all
nursing homes and retirement
villages across the state and the
screening processes for the staff
who work in them.
"We will ensure that lessons
are learned over this tragedy,"
O'Farrell told the media. "This is,
no matter how tragic, an isolated
episode and let's not damn
every nursing home with these
sort of episodes."
At the time, a range of
commentators were pointing out
that fire sprinklers were not fitted
to the Quakers Hill nursing home
-- and that by law, they did not
have to be fitted.
These included the Fire
and Rescue NSW assistant
commissioner in charge of the
rescue operation, Jim Smith,
who told reporters that fewer
people would have died if the
facility had sprinklers.
Fire safety equipment
will almost certainly come up
in any review of the Quakers
Hill fire, whether conducted
by the NSW State Coroner, the
NSW Department of Planning and
Infrastructure or any other body.
The Quakers Hill fire has reopened the debate over the
legalisation of fire sprinklers in nursing homes, as Steve
"There is no
Graeme Johnstone strongly
recommended making sprinklers
mandatory, after hearing evidence
from fire safety experts and going
over previous fire investigations.
"Certainly what that [inquest]
led to was a massive reform
process in Victoria, in relation
to fire safety in congregate care
facilities," Harcourt recalls.
"It led to changes in the
building code [and] changes
to regulation of the providers of
congregate care -- in particular,
state funded congregate care
The experienced lawyer
and principal at Melbourne
firm Russell Kennedy, expects
the question over mandatory fire
sprinklers to be central to any
coronial inquest into the Quakers
Hill nursing home fire.
"I think [in the inquest] fire
safety experts will say that a
properly sprinklered building will
result in a much better chance of
saving lives, through prevention
of deaths from smoke inhalation
and burns; that was one of the
significant issues that arose in the
Kew Cottages matter.
"There is no doubt that,
unfortunately, major adverse
incidents like this are quite
often the catalyst for regulatory
12 | JANUARY -- FEBRUARY 2012 | AAA
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