Fire Safety in Long Term Living and Nursing Homes


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Never in our nation’s history has it been more important to ensure the safety of long term living and nursing homes. With the pandemic raging and targeting our most vulnerable community, the facilities and infection control professionals at these assisted living facilities are facing some of the hardest circumstances they likely every will in their lives as they scramble to try and keep their residents safe. As each day passes, records are shattered with lives lost and unbearable heartbreak in wondering if all was done that could be. In the nine months sine the first lockdown in March, many of us have been forced to learn to habituate with the horrors of the pandemic. We try our best to process each day, each positive case, each shut down, each death the best that we can with the hopes that relief is on the way. But our friends in the healthcare, and especially those in nursing homes and assisted living facilities field don’t have the luxury of looking away. They spend day in and day out in the throes of this global nightmare, watching people they have grown to love die of COVID and loneliness. As they face the monstrosity of a third wave, pandemic surge plans are in place, but smaller facilities and long term healthcare facilities are still struggling to find personal protective equipment, including simple items like gloves and masks. It’s just all really unbelievable.

As the coronavirus pandemic grinds on, disaster planning and fire safety is taking place against a backdrop of the pandemic’s dominant force. In facilities where many cannot walk or safely egress on their own, have compromised immune systems and pre-existing respiratory and cardiac issues, getting these patients to safety during the event of catastrophe is hard enough. The pandemic and the need to keep these patients safe from the threat of the virus, makes these worries almost insurmountable for facility professionals like yourself.

Having strict fire safety plans in place and having staff trained on what to do during the event of the fire is required by state officials , but Authorities Having Jurisdictions (AHJ’s) rarely penalize over inadequate planning and non-compliance with local and state fire safety codes and standards- but because of the issues in nursing homes specifically, they are starting to adopt and enforce more and more – particularly this year. Most laws do require that long term living facilities drill staff, having items such as evacuations chairs installed in stairwell sand designated evacuations through fire doors, and many of these plans are in place and being followed acutely. But what happens if the asset itself, that you are so strongly relaying on to keep your occupants safe, fails? What if the fire door that you plan to egress through doesn’t open when the alarm rings or doesn’t close behind you when the temperature of the fire requires it to?

Annual fire door inspection code requirements try to keep this from happening – but many facilities lack the funding to contract out the inspections and lack the internal resources and the knowledge to attempt to perform asset inspections themselves. This is true of a multitude of fire safety inspections and obligatory maintenance requirements found within the walls of nursing homes. Building codes address active fire protection – things like fire sprinklers and alarm systems – that actively work to suppress fires.. These systems are regularly checked and enforced by fire marshals and likely a plan is already in place in the facility to ensure suppression systems are working as they should. What’s often over looked, however, is the passive fire protection system – the system built behind the walls and above ceiling that have an integral part in compartmentalizing and slowing the spread of fire.

Passive Fire Protection is built into the structure to provide stability and into walls and floors to separate the building into areas of manageable risk – compartments. Think fire rated walls, fire doors, fire and smoke dampers, rated barriers and partitions. These crucial facility assets are designed to restrict the growth and spread of fire allowing occupants to escape and offering additional protection for firefighters. In the event of a fire a facility that is filled with occupants who can’t egress on their own, the passive fire system can provide the time needed to get them to safety. If the passive fire protection system isn’t in good working order, the results could be fatal. In essence, this system buys you time to egress.

In a world where the elderly is up against enough obstacles, especially today’s world, we owe it to them to ensure that where they are living is safe. Our elderly are enduring challenges like never seen before in history. Let’s work together to change the mindset of disaster planning. Let’s work together to be proactive to ensure your fire safety systems are in tact in your long term living or nursing home so that’s one thing less you have to worry about.