According to fire safety equipment specialist, Wormald , the recent announcement by the NSW government about the mandatory requirement of sprinkler systems in NSW nursing homes has made fire safety in aged care facilities a topical issue.

Fire protection in the aged care sector requires both careful planning and technical knowledge, given the need to safeguard infirm and often immobile residents as well as the intricate medical equipment housed in such facilities. Inadequate or improper fire protection can expose residents and staff to dangers, leading to potential injury or even loss of life.

Though it is not always possible to prevent a fire, aged care facility managers must be adequately prepared to deal with any eventuality. In addition to being fully aware of any fire risks on site, they should actively work towards minimising these risks and provide fire protection equipment and systems, in accordance with the relevant compliance requirements.

When developing a fire protection solution for an aged care facility, fire protection specialists will consult with a variety of personnel including facility management and staff to gain an understanding of the needs and fire hazards specific to the facility, which would help them develop the most appropriate solution to suit the fire risks. Fire sprinkler systems can protect general areas within the facility while more specialised fire suppression systems can be installed where cooking facilities and equipment are situated.

Fire protection specialists should work with management to ensure any identified fire hazards are minimised through routine maintenance and inspections. The facility should also undertake an annual building review and regular equipment and system checks.

Fire safety equipment and solutions in aged care facilities should be installed and maintained in accordance with relevant legislation and standards. Every facility manager must also take the effort to familiarise themselves with the installed equipment and be aware of what is applicable to their individual facility.

The Commonwealth Aged Care Act 1997 provides a framework for residential aged care, combining several elements such as accreditation and building certification to promote a high standard of accommodation for the recipients of aged care services. Aged care facilities must be accredited under the Accreditation Standards for Residential Aged Care.

The Department of Human Services (NSW), Ageing Disability and Home Care has developed a useful fire safety guide for service providers, which gives details of relevant NSW legislation, Standards and Codes including the National Construction Code (incorporating the Building Code of Australia), and the Australian Standard, AS4083 Planning for Emergencies.

Fire protection solutions can be custom designed to match the specific needs and budgets of individual aged care facilities, and include a combination of fire detection and occupant warning systems, fire sprinkler systems and portable fire equipment such as fire hose reels, fire blankets and fire extinguishers.

Fire safety training is also extremely important as it can help ensure that staff and occupants are aware of the building’s emergency management and evacuation plan. In the event of a fire, elderly and immobile residents will require special assistance to evacuate from the building. Having trained staff that are proficient in emergency procedures will ensure that residents can be evacuated in a methodical and efficient manner.