Lessons from the Quakers Hill nursing home fire

Hills Independent

Today (18 November) marks the 10th anniversary of the tragedy that was the Quakers Hill Nursing Home fire.

Shockingly, 21 people died during, or following, the deliberately lit fire that engulfed the premises at Hambledon Road.

According to Fire & Rescue NSW, that fire was the most complex and intensive fire rescue operations had undertaken in many years.

This was due to a number of factors, some of which include: no Triple 000 emergency call being made delaying an escalated response, two separate fire ignition points, dense smoke descended to 50cm above the floor making for zero visibility, residents hiding under beds or furniture were difficult to locate and a mass rescue resulted in congestion at exits, particularly from moved beds.

“The actions of firefighters, ably assisted by nursing staff, police and ambulance, was instrumental in minimising deaths and injuries but tragically 21 people lost their lives,” FRNSW said.

The nursing home’s fire alarm sounded at 4:53am on 18 November 2011 with 20 fire appliances and nearly 100 firefighters responding.

A total of 88 aged, sick and frail residents were physically rescued from the building by emergency services and four staff members on duty.

Two fires were deliberately lit in separate wings. The first fire was minor and contained in an unoccupied room. The second fire was lit in an occupied room and spread throughout the wing.

A nurse working in the home, Roger Dean, was later convicted of lighting the fires resulting in the murder of 11 residents. He was sentenced to life without parole.

In 2013, the NSW Government made installation of automatic fire sprinkler systems mandatory for all nursing homes. Retrospective upgrades had to be completed no later than 1 March 2016, unless an extension to 1 March 2017 has been approved and granted.

Lessons have been learned from this disaster, notably the need for clear emergency plans and procedures for the evacuation of ambulant and non-ambulant residents; keeping passageways and exits clear; regular emergency response training drills and planning.

FRNSW recommends all aged care facilities and places providing accommodation to persons who need physical assistance (e.g. disabled), comply with NSW Health Policy Directive PD2010_024 Fire Safety in Health Care Facilities.

Australian Standards AS 3745-2010 Planning for emergencies in facilities and AS 4083-2010 Planning for emergencies – Health care facilities should be used when planning for emergencies.

Fire and Rescue NSW is committed to providing comprehensive training to health care facilities and organisations through our commercial training division ComSafe Training Services.

ComSafe can assist owners and operators in competency based and non-accredited workplace emergency response training in accordance with legislation, Australian Standards and NSW Health Policy Directives. This includes Fire Safety Officer and Fire Safety Manager training.

To find out more, visit comsafe.com.au, call 1800 78 78 48 or email comsafe@fire.nsw.gov.au.

Main picture: SBS.com.au


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