You bet THEIR life it is!
As the fire safety discussions continue about proposed mandatory sprinklers and possible timelines to retrofit older Long-Term care and Retirement homes, the obvious has not been addressed. In the interim, as the debate continues, has anyone queried how much actual training staff are receiving regarding fire safety and evacuation procedures?
For the most part the average expectation is one practice fire drill per shift, per month, and in Ontario a mandatory evacuation every three years for Long-Term care homes. Fire drill practice is usually an enactment of a possible fire with live alarms on the day and evening shifts. The night shift conducts a “silent alarm” scenario. A typical night shift fire drill consists of staff walking through fire procedures in the absence of an audible alarm. This is to avoid awakening or frightening the Residents.
Here’s the problem...
The number of staff working on the night shift and latter part of the evening is significantly less than numbers employed during the day. On nights there is no accessory staff working in other departments that could be conscripted to assist with a fire evacuation.
Here are the tough questions that need to be addressed…
How are homes educating staff regarding possible evacuation scenarios if a skeleton crew is working?
How are homes addressing the educational needs and preparedness of the part time and casual workers who may only be present for an occasional fire drill?
What strategies are homes using to develop a culture that empowers staff to think about contingencies to manage emergencies every shift they work?
What measures can be taken to improve the Staff to Resident ratio at night, without compromising care on other shifts?
We know that it may be a considerable length of time before sprinklers are retrofitted into older buildings.
We know that reaction time and response when a fire is discovered is critical for containment.
The most immediate solution to protect our Elders living in Retirement or Long-Term care homes is to educate, train, and create a culture of preparedness so staff are ever vigilant to handle emergencies.