More than half of residential aged care facilities and nursing homes within New South Wales remain without fully equipped sprinkler systems but solid progress is being made toward a 2016 deadline to have this rectified, new state government figures show.

Published on the state’s Department of Planning and Infrastructure website, the Fire Sprinkler Systems Implementation Reports – September 2013 show that:

  • Almost half of the 885 Commonwealth-accredited aged care facilities registered with the New South Wales government are now fully fitted with fire sprinkler systems (the remaining nursing homes must meet either a September 2014 or a March 2016 deadline – with those opting for the latter being required to produce regular implementation reports.)
  • Of 358 homes which nominated a 2016 deadline, around 78 per cent have commenced work on the facilities, with around 40 per cent still in the planning phase of their projects.

Legislated under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment (Fire Sprinkler Systems) Regulation 2012, a requirement for automatic fire sprinklers to be installed in all residential aged care facilities in New South Wales came into force on January 1 last year in response to a fire at the Quakers Hill Nursing Home in Sydney which killed 11 elderly residents and caused the evacuation of as many as 100 people in late 2011.

A re-enactment of that incident published by NSW Fire Services in 2012 showed most of the beds would have been unaffected by the flames if the facility had been equipped with a sprinkler.

The new rules have been met with widespread support. Council for the Aging (COTA), for example, an advocacy body for older Australians, wants similar requirements to be enacted across the country.

Gary Kwok, National Technical Manager with fire protection provider Wormald recently acknowledged the cost to retrofit aged care facilities can be significant, but said the ability of such systems to detect a fire, warn occupants via an alarm and alert the fire brigade while at the same time acting to control a fire meant such systems represented one of the most effective means of minimising fire damage.

Despite the large number of facilities still without fully installed systems, New South Wales Planning and Infrastructure Minister Brad Hazzard welcomed the latest figures, which he said demonstrated progress toward the goal of having sprinklers in all facilities by 2016 was being made and the government’s fire safety strategy in residential aged-care was working well.

“It is encouraging to see that the majority of nursing homes which are not already fitted with fire sprinkler systems have started down the path of safer housing for their elderly residents,” Hazzard said in a statement.

While the 129 homes which had opted for a September 2014 deadline to meet the requirements were not required to produce an implementation report, Hazzard said those facilities were generally making good progress.