Alarm blunder leaves old folk living in fear

11/10/2011'Shirley Sullivan is unhappy at Willow Edge, Kings Langley.
11/10/2011'Shirley Sullivan is unhappy at Willow Edge, Kings Langley.

A PENSIONER has hit out at the safety in her sheltered housing scheme after the fire brigade failed to be alerted when a blaze broke out.

A disconnected wire at the scheme in Kings Langley meant while smoke alarms sounded, an alert was not automatically sent through to the emergency services.

Shirley Sullivan, of Willow Edge in Blackwell Road, says they waited for 20 minutes until she dialled 999 herself.

The fire – caused by a resident leaving food cooking on a stove and falling asleep – was eventually doused and fortunately no-one was hurt.

“It was very, very scary,” she said.

“We were waiting 20 minutes and no fire brigade came.”

The scare on September 29 comes against a background of cutbacks to warden cover at sheltered housing schemes across Dacorum.

Willow Edge’s warden stepped down in March and has yet to be replaced, and Shirley says a warden from another scheme has stepped in on a part-time basis.

Dacorum Borough Council says a new warden will start in November, but under recent cuts wardens now have responsibility for an additional number of elderly people outside their schemes, meaning cover is more stretched.

Shirley, 70, said: “When we had our warden the alarm was checked at 10am every Wednesday without fail on the dot.

“I saw her every day. Now we see the warden twice a week if we’re lucky.

“They don’t check our cords. We have to pull them and make sure there are no problems.”

Andrew Vincent, group manager for tenants and leaseholders at the council, said a workman left the fire alarm wire unplugged.

“Willow Edge has been covered by a temporary member of staff recently as we are currently recruiting a new person to the position, who will be in place from November,” he said.

“Our supported housing officers test the fire alarm systems weekly. The alarm system should automatically route a call to the emergency services.

“Unfortunately during the fire alarm a lead had been left unplugged by a contractor who was servicing the unit and this call was not made automatically. Immediately after the incident we ensured that the system was reconnected properly and tested. Residents can be assured that we have taken measures to ensure that the systems will now be tested following servicing as well as the regular weekly tests.”