'It's appalling,' seniors advocacy group says fire drills cause too many injuries and deaths

Advocates for seniors are calling out fire drills which they say cause more harm than good. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

A seniors advocacy group says fire drills in seniors' residences cause serious injuries and even death.

The Quebec Seniors' Housing Group (RQRPA) is calling down these drills and asking that they be stopped. Instead, it demands information sessions for residents and better training for staff.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, RQRPA president Yves Desjardins did not hold back his anger.

"It's appalling, I can't take it anymore," he said. "Seniors are hiding, we found them in closets or under beds, they are afraid to go down the stairs in a hurry. And at the (health) department, they say, 'No, it's going well.' Me, I do evacuation drills and it's terrible."

In a fire drill in the Montérégie region, an evacuation exercise timed by the fire department resulted in several injuries from falls. One of the residents suffered several broken bones the next day and was pronounced dead within days.

It's not directly related to the exercise, but it is related to the exercise.

In total, four residents fell, two were hospitalized, and cognitively impaired seniors also took a hit.

People with memory problems and dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease, can be shaken for several days.

"When you come across 96-year-olds who don't go out in the morning and you take them out, because Prevention Week is next week, I go out of my mind," said Desjardins. "Make them die, while you're at it. Stop it!"

According to Desjardins, this type of situation occurs regularly in the hundreds of RPPs across Quebec.

In his opinion, the exercises are anti-pedagogical and lessons should be learned in the same style as air transportation.

Instead, sessions should be given to residents on emergency exits and procedures to be followed, without reproducing the exercise, as is done for passengers on commercial flights, he said.

Desjardins also asked that seniors' participation in the two exercises scheduled each year be optional.

The RQRPA deplores the fact that it was not consulted beforehand for the revision of the guide on fire safety in RPPs.

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Oct. 3, 2021.   

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