Fire Safety and Emergency Preparedness in Nursing + Health Care Facilities

Paul McManus + Brad Austin

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Apr 7, 2023

Writer and philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” While this piece of wisdom can be applied to any situation, it seems particularly relevant to the nursing home industry.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of two particularly devastating nursing home fires that occurred in Hartford, Connecticut, and Nashville, Tennessee, claiming the lives of 31 people. Events like these remind us of the importance of maintaining effective fire safety and emergency preparedness programs in nursing and health care facilities.

Nursing Home Sprinkler Systems

These two fires served as a catalyst for one of the most significant changes to fire safety requirements in our lifetime. First, the 2006 edition of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Life Safety Code® introduced sprinkler requirements for existing nursing homes. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) then issued a 2008 final ruling requiring that all existing skilled nursing facilities participating in their reimbursement program be equipped with supervised automatic sprinkler systems by August 2013.

Sprinkler systems save lives. They do their job so well that, according to NFPA statistics, there has never been a multiple-fatality fire in a nursing home equipped with a functional automatic sprinkler system (i.e., three or more fatalities in the same event).

Maintain Proper Fire and Emergency Preparedness Procedures + Training

While sprinkler systems can keep a fire in check, a health care facility’s fire safety program must also focus intently on utilizing proper staff procedures, training and performance of drills. Staff need to be comfortable taking timely and effective action should the need arise. Improper procedure focus and lack of training can lead directly to disastrous outcomes.

Effectively managing fire, life safety and emergency preparedness programs can be overwhelming. Maintaining procedures, delivering training, facilitating drills, and overseeing ongoing inspection, testing, and maintenance (ITM) can be extremely time-consuming tasks requiring unique knowledge. Yet, they are critical to the protection of both residents and staff.

Work With Your Community for an Effective Emergency Response

When a disaster strikes, we all need to work together to ensure our community has an effective disaster response. Through health care emergency preparedness, residents receive the care they need at the right place and time with the right resources.

On September 8, 2016, CMS published the Emergency Preparedness Requirements for Participation in the Federal Register. When this regulation became effective, it required many layers of emergency planning, including collaboration and coordination with local responders and other health care facilities in the local community.

Similar to mutual aid between emergency services, these mutual aid plans allow health care facilities and communities to assist one another in an emergency. Health care coalitions contribute by developing emergency plans, performing training exercises together, sharing information and resources, and building connections between all community-based partners. The coalition brings individual organizations together in a way that builds capabilities difficult to achieve without support.

Evaluate Your Emergency Preparedness Program

As we reflect upon this somber anniversary, consider evaluating your facility’s fire safety and emergency preparedness programs. Jensen Hughes provides all-inclusive customized programs that assess the effectiveness of your existing procedures and educate your staff on their role-specific duties during an emergency. Learn more about our health care emergency preparedness and life safety services.