AB 462 would save lives of elderly with sprinkler systems (2-year bill)

Update: The Committee on Government Organization hearing was on April 10, 2013. Failed passage. Reconsideration granted.

AB 462 (Stone), co-sponsored by Consumer Federation of California and California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, would require residential care facilities for dependent adults and the elderly to have installed and maintained automatic fire sprinkler systems approved by the State Fire Marshal.

Residential Care Facilities for the Elderly (RCFEs) – also known as assisted living facilities, retirement homes, and board and care homes – provide services to people that are 60+ years and people under 60 with compatible needs. The facilities can range in size from six beds or less to over 100 beds.

Adult Residential Facilities (ARFs) provide 24-hour non-medical care for adults 18-59 years who cannot provide for themselves. They may be physically handicapped, developmentally disabled, and/or mentally disabled.

Currently 7,592 RCFEs and 5,160 ARFs are in operation in California.

Out of those, the majority (79 percent and 85 percent respectively) are licensed for six or fewer beds; however, current law does not adequately protect people against fires in such smaller facilities.

Due to physical or cognitive impairments, many residents need assistance leaving a facility in case of an emergency. It can be even more difficult to assist non-ambulatory residents from a burning facility when the staff at the care facility may be limited to one person (per six residents).

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, the most effective fire loss prevention and reduction measure for life and property is the installation and maintenance of home fire sprinklers. Fire sprinkler systems offer the fire safety because they control the fire immediately in the room of origin, help limit the spread of fire, and can extinguish it before the fire department arrives.

The Government Accountability Office estimated in a 2004 report that automatic sprinkler systems reduce the chance of fire-related deaths by 73 percent, and smoke alarms and sprinkler systems combined can reduce fire-related deaths by 82 percent.

In 2011, five out of six residents died in a fire at the Mount Carmel Adult Residential Facility, a single-story home in the Northern California town of Marina. Two caregivers who were awakened by a smoke alarm tried unsuccessfully to rescue their vulnerable residents, but only one was able to walk on her own. Five residents died; the sixth, along with the two caregivers, was hospitalized. Marina’s Mayor called the blaze ‘a tragedy of a magnitude we haven’t experienced before.’ Had automatic fire sprinklers been installed, the tragedy might have been prevented.

Fire sprinklers should be viewed as a necessary investment in protecting the safety of vulnerable residents. AB 462 is long overdue legislation that will save lives.