The province has pledged $20 million to help install automatic fire sprinkler systems in small retirement homes across Ontario — after more than two decades of pressure from safety advocates.
During the announcement on Wednesday in Toronto, Minister of Seniors Affairs Dipika Damerla said the funding program is "both responsive to the financial challenges the sector has raised, and balanced through a cost-share model."
It will help retrofit more than 6,000 suites, in order to meet a Jan. 1, 2019 deadline for the province's retirement homes to be equipped with the automatic systems under updated fire code requirements.
Retirement homes will have to apply for the government program, which aims to help small homes with under 49 beds in rural communities comply with the rules.
"The initiative will undoubtedly save lives," said Steve Hernan, president of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs.
Program follows pressure from safety advocates, multiple deadly fires
The move comes in the wake of multiple deadly fires at retirement homes across the province.
Back in 1995, a fire at a seniors' home in Mississauga killed eight people and prompted a coroner's inquest, which recommended that all new nursing homes install sprinklers and existing homes be retrofitted.
Calls for sprinklers increased following another deadly fire in 2009 — this time at a retirement residence in Orillia which didn't have a sprinkler system. That fire left four people dead and six others critically injured.
In 2014, Ontario became the first province to make sprinkler retrofits mandatory in licensed retirement homes.
"That is a very long timeframe, but we're nearing the end of the process, and I'm pleased that we're getting there," said Graham Webb, executive director of the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly.
Right now, roughly 60 per cent of the more than 730 licensed retirement homes in Ontario have full automatic sprinkler systems.