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Hotel gets fire service inspection after complaint from consultant

A hotel has been publicly criticised for poor fire safety after a fire safety consultant stayed there over the Christmas period.

The complaints by Alan Cox, a former fire safety officer in the public and private sector, resulted in an inspection of the Buckatree Hall Hotel in The Wrekin, near Telford, by officers from Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service on new year’s eve.

In a detailed letter to Paul Raymond, the chief fire officer of Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service, Mr Cox alleged a catalogue of poor fire safety management. These included the obstruction of emergency escape routes, a locked fire exit door, a compressed gas cylinder stored in a linen cupboard without a fire door, a fire door wedged open, and poorly fitting fire doors. He had written to the chief fire officer because the problems remained unresolved after he had raised them with the hotel’s duty manager during his stay.

Mr Cox told the Telford Journal that it was his “second nature” to notice these things after spending four decades in firefighting and fire safety.

“Whenever I stay somewhere I look to find the quickest way out. In the Champagne Suite where we were, the main entrance was deadlocked and another was blocked, and there was only one other door you could have gone through. But in an emergency you just head for the nearest exit…If we had had a fire when I was there it would have been a catastrophe waiting to happen because people wouldn’t have been able to get out.”

John Das-Gupta, head of prevention and protection at Shropshire Fire & Rescue Service, said that as soon as he had heard of Mr Cox’s concerns – which were presented in a “comprehensive, well structured complaint with photographic evidence” – a fire safety officer visited the hotel to discuss them with the manager.

“Following that, our operational staff completed a visit on new year’s eve which is in accordance with the many hotel inspections the service carries out,” he told the Telford Journal. “Following these visits the fire safety officer has sent a written report to the general manager highlighting the legal duties required to comply with the Fire Safety Order to ensure the safety of relevant people.”

Mr Das-Gupta subsequently told Info4fire: “Any issues that we identified were remedied at the time, or an action plan was put in place to deal with outstanding issues. These other issues were not major life risk issues. As far as we are concerned our intervention is over now.”

The owners of the hotel, Sarac Hotels, said the Buckatree Hall hotel was undergoing a £1m refurbishment after being acquired by the company last September. As part of the refurbishment, an L2 fire detection and alarm system has been installed, as well as a programme to replace or upgrade all fire doors.

Speaking to Info4fire, Sarac’s executive general manager, Steve Gibbins, said: “It is extremely difficult when you take over a hotel and there is so much to be done.”

Responding to the allegation of escape routes being blocked, he said one of these is an internal route only which comes into play only when the function suite is partitioned into smaller rooms. As it was laid out over the Christmas period, there were other means of escape from the suite. Similarly, the locked fire exit doors comprise the front entrance only to the suite, and it is reasonable to keep them locked on security grounds.

As for the poorly fitting fire doors, Mr Gibbins said that fire doors or door frames were being replaced as part of the refurbishment of the hotel.

On the issue of a fire door being wedged open, he said that staff have been reminded that the door should remain closed at all times, even if this might be inconvenient for access, and that the hotel was investigating the fitting of electromagnetic mechanisms on several fire doors.

He conceded that the compressed gas cylinder should not have been stored on the premises, and that call point diagrams on the back of bedroom doors needed updating.

“We take our fire precaution responsibility very seriously and the safety of our guests is of paramount importance to us, hence the major investment currently being made in the property,” said Mr Gibbins. “Throughout all works being undertaken we are liaising closely with the local fire authorities.”

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