Monday, February 3, 2014

How to Finance a Possible Mandatory Installation of Fire Sprinklers in Private Residences for Elderly

Further to the tragedy of L’Isle Verte, I propose three measures that would help private residences for the elderly acquire fire sprinklers: loans guaranteed by the government of Quebec, tax reductions and an insurance premium reduction.

In the night of January 23 to 24, a major fire devastated Residence du Havre, a private residence for the elderly at L’Isle Verte. L’Isle Verte is a municipality of 1 432 people located in the regional county municipality (RCM) of Rivière du Loup –For the readers who are not familiar with Quebec, a RCM is a territorial subdivision specific to Quebec that is made up several municipalities.  Residence du Havre was accommodating 18 autonomous elderly people and 34 other who are coping with a loss of autonomy. Only 20 of the 52 residents were rescued from the blaze. 

Fire of elderly people residencies is frequent in Quebec but one as deadly as this goes back to December 2, 1969.   That fire devastated Residence Le Repos du vieillard in Notre-Dame-du-Lac and killed 38 people. The district of Notre-Dame-du-Lac is currently part of the municipality of Témiscouata-sur-le-Lac, RCM of Témiscouata.

Touched by the tragedy of l’Isle Verte, many voices have spoken to ask for the mandatory installation of fire sprinklers in the residences for the elderly in Quebec. A fire sprinkler is a protection devise discharging water and other extinguishing agents in a unit as soon as it detects signs of fire such as excess temperature. More than half of the private residences for the elderly in Quebec are made entirely of wood, a combustible material. The installation of fire sprinklers will help contain fire, reduce the risk of collapse of these residences in case of disaster and facilitate the evacuation of victims. 

In Canada, Ontario is the only province that has made mandatory since May 2013 fire sprinklers in the private residences for the elderly and long-term care facilities. According to figures released by the Ministry of Health and Social Services of Quebec, 1052 out of the 1953 private residences for the elderly registered in Quebec (about 54 %) are not at all protected by fire sprinklers.

The cost of installing fire sprinklers in a residence of 30 living units is about $ 150 000. Financial institutions are reluctant to finance this investment pretending it does not add to the value of a residence, a view that I do not share. A residence equipped with fire sprinklers will by all means be sold quicker and at a higher price than an identical residence that does not have any. A fire sprinkler constitutes an advantage in the eyes of any potential buyer. Furthermore, by reducing the risk of fire spreading, fire sprinklers will protect not only the residences for the elderly but also neighboring buildings.  

The high cost of installing fire sprinklers and the trouble of getting loans, raise the question of how one could help the owners of residences to finance a possible mandatory installation of fire sprinklers. I propose three issues for reflection:

  • The setting of a loan program from financial institutions guaranteed by the government of Quebec,
  • A tax return on the interests paid on these loans,
  • A reduction by insurance companies of the insurance premiums paid by the residences that would comply with the standards.