Making sprinklers mandatory

New South Wales Planning Minister, Brad Hazzard, is expected to recommend to cabinet, as early as this week, that sprinklers be mandatory in all aged care facilities.

The measure could cost the industry up to $160 million.

The Herald Sun reports a re-enactment, filmed by Fire and Rescue NSW, of the lethal fire that tore through the Quakers Hill nursing home shows most beds would reportedly have gone “virtually untouched” by flames and smoke had sprinklers been installed.

At least 11 elderly residents died last November after fire destroyed the facility.

The re-enactments show a room with sprinklers and one without. In both situations a lighter is held to the corner of a bed sheet, setting it alight. At four minutes and 42 seconds, sprinklers were reportedly activated in one room, largely extinguishing the flames in about 30 seconds.

But at the 10-minute mark, the room without sprinklers was still well alight and pouring black smoke. At 20 minutes, it was totally engulfed by flames, which had spread outside the room.

Footage shot once both fires were extinguished allegedly showed the room with sprinklers was virtually undamaged while the other was completely burnt out.

A Fire and Rescue spokeswoman said the footage “demonstrated the effectiveness of sprinklers in containing a fire to the room/area of origin and reducing the effects of heat, smoke and toxicity on fire victims”.

An audit in February showed fewer than one-third of NSW nursing homes had sprinklers fitted.

The chief executive of the NSW branch of the Aged and Community Services Association, Illana Halliday, said the video showed the aged care industry was “working on what we now know was a false assumption that sprinklers save buildings, not lives”.

Sprinklers in new aged-care centres in NSW have been compulsory since 2002.

 Domain Principal Group, which owns the Quakers Hill home, announced after the fire that sprinkler systems would be fitted in all the company's 58 homes.