Pennsylvania Sen. Andy Dinniman

Sprinklers, safety and staffing levels are the focuses of legislation that a Pennsylvania senator plans to introduce in response to the deaths of four residents after a five-alarm fire at a continuing care retirement community in his district in November 2017.

“It is important that we learn the lessons of the tragedy at Barclay Friends and act to help ensure that it never happens again,” state Sen. Andy Dinniman, a Democrat, said in a statement. “To that end, I have been working with fire safety professionals to review and draft legislation [to] improve the fire safety of senior care and senior living communities in Pennsylvania.”

Investigators, in a Jan. 31 report, said they believe that the main sprinkler valve at a building in the Kendal Corp. retirement community in West Chester, PA, was off during the blaze. The community’s executive director said at the time that the provider was “deeply distressed” by the finding. The cause of the fire was ruled “undetermined,” but the fire did not appear to be intentionally set, investigators said.

“While we may never know what exactly caused the fire at the Barclay Friends that fateful night, we do know that the main sprinkler should have been on and that that, among several other factors, made an already extremely dangerous [situation] much, much worse,” Dinniman said.

The senator said one of his bills will focus on strengthening the security of the main valve on fire sprinkler systems and on inspections of sprinkler valves and sprinkler systems. Additional legislation may focus on exterior fire sprinklers, building materials and mandatory staffing levels in senior living communities.

“Our senior population, including those with memory and mobility needs, and their families, deserve to know that they have the necessary protections to prevent an emergency or get to safety if one does strike,” he said. “And by improving these safety standards, we’ll also be supporting our emergency fire responders and firefighters who put their lives on the line responding to fires.”

Barclay Friends Executive Director Linda Sterthous, in a Jan. 31 letter posted on the community’s website, said that since the fire, the CCRC has “thoroughly examined and upgraded our fire protection systems and procedures across our campus.”

A new fire alarm system was installed in the skilled nursing building, which only sustained water damage; all life safety systems there were inspected by multiple local and state authorities; and Barclay Friends worked with engineers and architects to improve safety systems in the building, Sterthous said. “And, we have reinforced our training protocols,” she said.

Barclay Friends demolished the CCRC’s assisted living building, where the four deceased residents lived, after the fire. Its replacement, Sterthous said, “will have “state-of-the-art fire safety systems and construction materials.”

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