Monday 7 November 2011

Fire hazards - complaint to the Council

With Wednesday's full council meeting looming on the horizon I am hoping, as I have said before, that others will join me in requesting that the entry restrictions are lifted. In the interests of safety, if nothing else, I expect there now to be free, unhindered access to and from the Public Gallery to the outside world.
Some hope.
I emailed the Fire Service last week with my concerns and incorporated it into a complaint to the Council (see below).I had an immediate acknowledgement from the Fire Service (as an emergency service, I do not expect them to leap into action). A couple of days later I had an acknowledgement from the Council who said my complaint had been passed on to the inappropriately named Democratic Services as a 'Stage 1' complaint to be dealt with by the 15th November. No wonder people are turned off complaining. Anyhow, any response will be posted here.

"Dear Sir
By way of complaint to Carmarthenshire Council please see the email below as sent to the Carmarthen Fire Office. Please could the council officer responsible for the safety of members of the public in County Hall respond to me personally, via email about my concerns as outlined below. the public, when visiting the Gallery are clearly at risk:

To the Chief Fire Officer,
I am writing with concern about the fire safety regulations at County Hall Carmarthen. As a regular visitor to the public gallery I was disturbed to discover that members of the public are in effect, locked into the building. A phone is provided to summon staff to escort you out of the building and you are told a) To remain in the public gallery in the event of fire and wait for assistance and, contradictory to that, b)all the locks automatically unlock if the fire alarm sounds. Requests to the Council revealed that no fire assessment had been carried out with members of the public in the Gallery in mind, nor had they ever been involved in a fire drill. I attended the public gallery today (31st October) and was very concerned, I was actually trapped in the stairwell leading to the gallery. I was exiting the gallery and used the phone provided to call staff to escort me through the locked doors and out of the building. The phone was engaged and despite several attempts, remained so. I opened that door myself, which locked behind me only to discover I was unable to open the external fire exit at the bottom of the stairwell. Fortunately I had my mobile phone so was able to get through to reception (eventually) and two members of staff escorted me out.
The whole regime which has recently been introduced is putting members of the public at risk. Could the fire service please contact the council and ensure the access and exit procedures to and from the public gallery are made safe. I am also contacting Carmarthenshire County Council. I believe complaints have already been made earlier in the summer. I would appreciate if you could report back to me on your findings, if possible.

Many thanks for your time
Jacqui Thompson"

As an aside, I was interested to note that the Mid and West Wales Fire Authority which has five Carmarthenshire Councillors on it's Board, regularily podcast's it's meetings.

And an interesting post today on 'Wales Home' by Peter Black AM on twittering etc in the Senedd and elsewhere;

Update; I have seen email correspondence from the Fire Officer to the Council which states that the "exit doors from the Gallery area" (I presume he means the external doors?) are "by the way, fine" - As I said, they would not open last Monday....unless of course he has now used the repeated and forceful action of a size 12 Fireman's boot...? I never thought of doing that but then again I only have girly feet, which would clearly be useless in a fire....

Update 8th November;

The Noxious Fumes of County Hall

Well, the Council haven't dragged their feet this time, although the swift response may have something to do with the fact there's a full council meeting tomorrow (10am, County Hall) and I have indicated I will attend. I hear others will be joining me. Needless to say my complaint has been dismissed. My comments are in blue;

Dear Mrs. Thompson
Thank you for your communication which was received on Tuesday 1st November 2011
In accordance with the Corporate Complaints Procedure I have considered your complaint. ( ref no: 1146066 )
Your complaint alleges that the procedures the Council has put in place for the public to access the public gallery jeopardise fire safety in that the public are locked in to the stairwell. In support of that you cite the incident which happened to you last week when you found yourself trapped in the stairwell and the telephone arrangements for being released from the stairway were inadequate.
The example you give is an unfair one in that you are comparing the arrangements which are in place on normal days to the arrangements which are in place in times of fire.

This is not unfair, it demonstrates a failed system, I would have thought 'arrangements' should be the same for either occasion with public safety part of both - although we know that public safety is nothing to do with it all.

On normal days the procedure in place is that the public are escorted to the public gallery and have to phone the democratic services unit when they want to leave because they do not have security cards to open the doors. I do not consider this arrangement to be improper. County Hall is a working office and security arrangements need to be in place to prevent the public from wandering at will.

There is nothing 'normal' about these arrangements. Prior to June 8th the exterior door was always open and the public could access the gallery unaided and without being able to access the rest of the building or 'wander at will'.

In times of fire the security door at the foot of the stairwell will automatically release whilst the external door at the foot of the stairwell will have been opened. Whilst egress from the public gallery will be unobstructed, visitors to the public gallery must comply with the fire evacuation procedure they have been asked to follow so that they can be led to safety along an appropriate escape route by a fully trained Fire Warden. It may be that the seat of the fire is in the stairwell itself and opening the door to the stairwell will therefore only serve to fuel the fire with more oxygen and allow the spread of noxious fumes. The Fire Warden will decide on the most appropriate route and note the names of those visitors he/she recovers so that they can be discounted from the visitors’ log for the building.

This is disingenuous, members of the public have only had to give their names etc since the 8th June, it has nothing to do with fire safety and everything to do with monitoring who is observing the meetings and preventing anyone attending who hasn't signed the unlawful undertaking.

You found yourself in the position you did on the day in question because you were impatient and were not prepared to wait until the telephone extension number was free, so much so that you exited the public gallery yourself and put yourself in the position of being in the stairwell with no office telephone or means of exiting the stairwell. You were not in danger at any time as there was no fire. Had there been a fire the security door would have released and the external door at the foot of the stairwell would have been open.
In light of the above I do not consider your complaint to be valid.

I was not 'impatient', I tried the phone six times, I then assumed the exterior door would be open (at least from the inside). I realise there was no fire, and of course I was in no danger, I simply should have been able to get out via the fire door. If this door, as the email states, has to be opened in time of fire then let's just hope someone, with a key and a good memory, remembers to do it

I have however reviewed the procedure for contacting the democratic services unit following your experience on 31/10/11 and in future there will be a choice of two extension numbers to telephone with the second number automatically diverting the call to a third telephone extension after 6 rings in the unlikely event of there being no response. This should ensure that there will always be someone available to answer a call from the public gallery.

Good, although an entirely ridiculous situation.

In so far as your complaint that no fire assessment has been carried out with the public in the gallery in mind, this is incorrect in that this area is covered by the Fire Officer as part of his annual inspection of the building and no adverse comments have been received to date regarding the arrangements in place for the evacuation of visitors from the public gallery. I can confirm that the Authority’s fire management plan, prepared in accordance with the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997 (as amended) does contain provisions as to members of the public. For example, it states that "Fire Wardens are designated to check all sections of the building".

Let's hope, until the 'arrangments' are lifted, their 'fire management plan' isn't put to the test. I wouldn't trust a Carmarthenshire Council 'management plan' to ensure my safety nor anything else for that matter.

You have made this complaint to the Fire Authority, of course, and the Council will await their response.
In the meantime, however, the Council does not uphold your complaint.
If you should not be happy with the response given and wish to proceed to the next stage of the Complaints Process then please contact; The Complaints Team, Chief Executives Department, County Hall, Carmarthen, SA31 1JP or Tel; 01267 224488, or email;

Yours sincerely
Democratic Services Manager


Mr Mustard said...

I suggest you test the system to see if it works. Smash the glass and see if the doors do unlock.

Mrs Angry said...

and then blame Mr Mustard when you get arrested again ...

caebrwyn said...

@Mr Mustard fancy making such a suggestion...and quite right @Mrs Angry...
The serious point being that until the 8th June 'incident' the Council neither knew nor cared who was in the Public Gallery, access in and out had been un-monitored and un-hindered ever since the local peasantry had started wandering in. An 'operational' decision was made by officers to change all that so that they now have the ability to check and prevent, if they wish, anyone they consider 'undesireable' from going in. Maybe they'll soon be employing the services of Metpro...

Anonymous said...

Regarding the Council reply, I have a number of queries.

What happens if the fire/smoke are positioned between the Public Gallery and the Fire Warden, or affect the power to the door releasing mechanism?

Unless the Annual Inspection has recently been undertaken, it will not have included the new 'Locked Doors Policy'.

Finally, what if there is a non-fire emergency that you have to escape from in the Public Galery?

Craig M.

Cneifiwr said...

Was there a name attached to that very insolent and arrogant reply? Your complaint was polite and to the point. Whoever wrote the response clearly has no manners, no judgment and obviously regards the public as stupid and inferior.

Can I suggest that you send your complaint and the reply to one of the councillors on the fire authority - Dyfrig Thomas would be a good choice.

Anonymous said...

i am beginning to understand the council are more complacent than i imagined. ignorance, arrogance and negligant springs to mind...

if there was a fire between the locked door and the gallery, or wherever, heaven forbid that a fire does not break out and the person(s) inside the gallery are not disabled,wheelchair bound, or have some sort of condition that is too much for them to descend as the route of escape is not manageable to climb down over the balcony.


(anon 2)

Anonymous said...

I haven't stopped laughing yet at this council's reply! If you tried to write it yourself it would be difficult. Only this council could trump up such a piece of farce and folly. It is a script worthy of a comedy sketch. A cross between 'Yes Minister and 'The thin Blue Line!!! Unbelievable.

caebrwyn said...

I have to agree with the last comment, this council have developed farce into an art form.

@Cneifiwr this is from Mr Colin Davies who apparently is in charge of democracy, however it seems he may be soon out of job as there's barely any left to be in charge of. In fact I believe the Council may not bother having an election next year and they will be doing away with Councillors altogether :)
I shall ask the wardens tomorrow to make sure the exterior door is left open so there's a direct line of escape from the noxious fumes of the Chamber...
I am also going to add some wording to the undertaking (unless everyone present refuses to sign??)in that it's unlawful, undemocratic and not binding.

Anonymous said...

"Emergency Exit" or a "Fire Exit". what signage is actually between the doors? or on the door itself....

a fire risk assessment may indicate the need for the doors to open in the direction of escape if a higher risk of fire and/or evacuation than would normally be expected existed in the premises.

The default to open should also be on failure of the power supply to the automatic device.

consider a locking device that is secure from the outside but can be easily opened without a key or code from within. As a fire exit it must always be usable from within.

(anon 2)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your email and I agree that on the face of it there appears to be a problem and it is a good job that it has been recognised at this early stage and before someone has been injured. The locking of fire exit doors with electronic locks has been the cause of deaths in the past and there is now a guidance note on how they should be incorporated which requires a great detail of care but does look at the integration into a fire alarm system and the problems of external power supplies.,


Anonymous said...

1.This is the advice that is usually given about Electronic Locking Devices when carrying out a Fire Risk Assessment:"Employees should be able to open doors quickly and easily without the use of a key and they should not have to undo more than one security device. If the doors are required to be secured but used by significant numbers or people unfamiliar with the premises, such as the public, the use of push bars, push pads or similar opening devices is recommended. All employees or regular building users in the case of community buildings, need to be trained on how to operate any security device and operating signs may be needed to ensure understanding of this. When conducting this part of the assessment, look critically at any electronic locking system and ensure that it de-energises and is operable on actuation of the fire alarm or failure of the power supply. Also look carefully at the use of mechanical number locks within the workplace. It should be obvious that you would not want to be confronted by a numerical locking system and have to remember the number to be able to escape from a fire." (anon2)

Anonymous said...

2.If you look at you will see that there is reference to a number of British Standards and it is important that the locks are installed to these standards. You will also note that in the document from London Fire Brigade it does point out that their use in certain areas where the public are present is not recommended. I don't know what position they take in Wales but it should be something similar.

Anonymous said...

3.It is always very difficult to assess these problems because these electronic locking devices can be wired in a number of ways and its only when you carry out a full test that you can determine how they release. There is also the problem of terminology because if you ask a security specialist what is meant by fail safe they will mean "fail secured" but if you ask a fire specialist he will mean "fail open" and so you can see that it can be a minefield.

Anonymous said...

firstly need to obtain a copy of the Fire Service Policy on Electronic Locking of Fire Escape Doors and then ask the council if they comply with this advice and also the British Standard