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Quebec Retirement Community Fire Raises Questions About Emergency Evacuations

I was sad to read that the search for victims who perished in a Quebec retirement community fire had ended. At least twenty eight seniors were killed when the wood-framed building caught fire and was destroyed in less than an hour.

In the fifteen years that I have been involved in the elder care industry, I have never been asked how a senior would be evacuated from a building during a fire or other disaster. In light of current tragedy in Quebec, it is a question that should be addressed when assessing senior living communities.

Before I opened Andrea Donovan Senior Living Advisors, I was the Admissions Director of a retirement community that offered Intermediate nursing care (as well as independent living and assisted living) to its residents as part of the continuum of care. We were bound to act according to the Illinois Administrative Code for Skilled Nursing and Intermediate Care Facilities, Section 300.670 on Disaster Preparedness. This meant the staff had to adhere to extremely rigorous guidelines in case of a “disaster.” A disaster meant, “an occurrence as a result of natural force or mechanical failure such as water, wind or fire, or a lack of essential resources such as electric power, that poses a threat to the safety and welfare of residents, personnel, and others present in the facility.” The requirements were as follows:

-We had to know how to operate the fire extinguishers.

-An evacuation route was posted and we needed to be familiar with it.

-Fire drills had to be held quarterly for all of the shifts. Each one of us was given a specific task to perform in order to ensure that the fifty-five frail, elderly residents who lived on the floor were safely evacuated. This was no easy task. The building was constructed in the early 1950s and the Intermediate care unit was housed on the top floor of a multiple-story building. My special task was to be certain that each resident who was bound to a wheelchair (and most were) was wheeled to one of the two stair cases in the middle of the two wings. From that point, two of the male employees would assist with carrying the residents down multiple floors in the wheelchair. In doing this, we fulfilled the requirement of simulating the evacuation of residents to safe areas during one drill each year. It was a very exhausting process.

The community also included independent and assisted living. But, at the time I was there, the independent living residents were all ambulatory. Assisted living was considered to be an extension of independent living, and the residents needed standby assistance (not total assistance) with their activities of daily living. Therefore, when a fire drill was conducted, two huge, metal fire doors swung shut, and the residents were instructed to stay behind them in their rooms until assistance from the fire department arrived.

Therefore, if you are entertaining placement for a senior loved one, disaster plan assessment is another important piece of the puzzle.

For all of you senior living needs, please contact Andrea Donovan Senior Living Advisors.