Fire alarm fault is ‘putting lives at risk’ - Letchworth resident

A RESIDENT caught up in a Letchworth GC flat blaze which cost a man his life has said a fault in the fire alarm system is “putting lives at risk.”

Ross Watkins was one of around 70 residents evacuated from their flats in Bittern Way just after midnight last Tuesday following a fire in a man’s first-storey flat.

Barry Collings, 53, died at the scene where tributes have now been placed.

Mr Watkins told The Comet this week that on the night of the fire the door system which allows only residents access to their individual corridors in the six-storey block was not overridden, as is procedure in the case of an emergency.

“We couldn’t get access to any other corridors,” he said.

“It’s a flaw in the system and it’s putting lives at risk. When I left my flat I was in a bit of a panic - I started to go down the stairs and there was too much smoke but I couldn’t get access to any other corridors when going back up.

“It’s never worked, every time there’s been a false alarm it happens. I’ve raised this many times with North Hertfordshire Homes. There’s quite a few elderly people in the block so there could be serious consequences.”

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A spokesman for the fire service said: “On the night of the fire, the door system did not default to ‘fail safe’ which would have released the corridor doors automatically. This did not prevent or hinder people from leaving the building.

“The fire service did have manual and electronic access to the corridors, however to speed up the fire checks it was necessary to ask some residents for access.

“Since the fire, the doors have been checked on two occasions by the fire service and we are satisfied that the doors release upon a fire alarm activation.”

North Hertfordshire Homes, who own the block of flats, said a fire audit was undertaken at Bittern Way during March and no issues with the release of the doors were apparent.

Chief executive Kevin Thompson said: “We would like to reassure residents that we continually work with the fire service to ensure all our buildings meet fire safety standards.”