HammondCare supports sprinkler decision for nursing homes

HammondCare supports the NSW Government's decision to make automatic sprinkler systems mandatory in all NSW nursing homes and is already in full compliance with the decision, in keeping with its comprehensive fire safety strategy.

NSW Minister for Planning Brad Hazzard announced this week that aged care providers would have three years from January 2013 to retrofit sprinklers in nursing homes. The decision affects as many as 600 nursing homes across the state that do not have sprinklers. The decision is in response to the tragic Quaker's Hill nursing home fire of November 2011.

HammondCare installs sprinklers in the construction phase of all newer homes such as at Erina, Woy Woy, Horsley and the soon to be completed Miranda, in keeping with current regulations applying to nursing homes built after 2002.

In addition, HammondCare has retrofitted sprinklers in all of its nursing homes constructed before that date, and was able to achieve this with minimum disruption to residents and families.

Chief Executive Dr Stephen Judd said HammondCare welcomed the mandatory sprinklers decision as an important addition to the current high level of fire safety embedded into residential care.

He also acknowledged that the cost of retrofitting would be a challenge for some aged care providers and that from HammondCare's experience, the cost varies considerably depending on the construction of the facility.

Aged care peak body supports sprinklers, calls for assistance

The Aged and Community Services Association of NSW/ACT Inc (ACS) said ina statement this week it also fully supports the retrofitting of fire sprinklers in aged care facilities.

“Safety for residents and staff is the number one priority for aged care providers and the evidence is now clear that properly installed sprinklers play an important part in saving lives in the horrifying event of a fire,” Illana Halliday, CEO, ACS said.

“However, the church, charitable and not-for-profit aged care sector often operates without cash contingencies for major work such as the retrofitting of sprinklers. In fact some operate at a loss and are dependent on local community support. Therefore, it will be essential for some providers to receive financial assistance with the costs of the installations."

Tragic fire highlighted need for fire safety strategy

At the time of the Quaker's Hill fire, Dr Judd wrote to residents and families, reflecting on the painful loss caused by the fire and outlining the fire safety strategy of HammondCare:

"We have all been saddened by the news of the fire that broke out at a Domain Principal nursing home at Quaker’s Hill in the early hours of Friday 18th November and the subsequent loss of life," Dr Judd said. "These events are rare. Indeed Greg Mullins, the Commissioner of the Fire Brigades, recalled that the previous such event was in April 1981, more than 30 years’ ago, at Pacific Nursing Home at Sylvania Heights where there was also loss of life.

"The reason that they are mercifully rare is that fire safety is embedded into residential aged care, both in its building certification system and its standards accreditation. And that focus is especially true at HammondCare where it is embedded in both the physical environment and our processes in three ways:

1. Our fire protection systems are thoroughly compliant, vigilantly maintained and rigorously tested. Our buildings are compartmentalised to delay the spread of a fire.

2. Fire and evacuation training. This is at the very top of our agenda in our basic training of staff. We work hard to ensure that all staff, at all hours of the day and night understand how to respond to a fire alert.

3. Evacuation strategies. We regularly review both on-site and off-site evacuation procedures. The latter is particularly relevant in summer,when the threat for some of our services is bushfire rather than house fire.

"Finally, while we will continue to upgrade, improve and maintain our buildings, the key elements to protect against fire are the systems, the training and the dedication of our staff. You can rest assured that this remains a focus for our managers, our direct care staff and the organisation as a whole."