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Norwich tenants wait four hours for fire alarm to be turned off as engineers sent from Dorset

12:00 13 January 2013

Residents at Helgate Court, Westwick Street, Norwich who have to endure hours of ear-splitting alarms even after the fire service have attended because they are not authorised to reset the control panel. Photo: Steve Adams

Residents at Helgate Court, Westwick Street, Norwich who have to endure hours of ear-splitting alarms even after the fire service have attended because they are not authorised to reset the control panel. Photo: Steve Adams

It’s a case of Welcome to Hell-gate for people in a Norwich neighbourhood who are having to repeatedly put up with fire alarms blaring for up to four hours at a time.

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The 31 residents of Helgate Court on Westwick Street face a lengthy wait when the alarm goes off because they claim Orbit Housing, which owns the flats, has barred them from silencing it themselves.

Instead they send their own engineers to turn off the alarms, however they often have to travel from as far away as Dorset – a 450-mile round-trip, taking eight hours.

Today the residents, who have taken to putting towels around some of the alarms to reduce the noise, said they had reached the end of their tether and called for action to sort the problem.

They claim the alarms sound every three or four weeks for smoke or fire and Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service are not allowed to turn the alarms off.

Vivienne Bolton, who lives in the flats, said the tenants were in an “on-going battle”, adding: “This fire alarm regularly goes off. It doesn’t take much smoke, heat or steam to get it going and when it goes off the sound is deafening.

“We know how to silence it, but we have been told by Orbit that we are not allowed to. It is very annoying.”

Contractors Cirrus, who are employed by Orbit to reset the alarm, are based in Wimbourne in Dorset.

But a spokeswoman for Orbit said the engineers were often based “regionally” and aimed to get to the housing within four hours.

The mainly elderly residents are not allowed to turn the alarms off themselves despite reassurances from the fire service that it is safe for them to do so.

On Wednesday night the alarm began raging at around 10.30pm after being set off by burnt food.

The fire service was called and made sure the block of flats was safe. But the alarm continued to sound.

Residents took matters into their own hands and silenced the alarm at around 11.30pm.

The engineer arrived at 1.00am having travelled from another call in Stevenage.

Mrs Bolton said that on August 15 last year an engineer arrived from Dorset, while in October and December when the alarm sounded they had to wait for someone to arrive from London.

She added: “On Wednesday night tenants were exhausted, their ears ringing after hours of punishing sound.”

Pauline Taylor who lives in the flats added: “We’ve silenced it before but got into trouble.”

A note left by a fireman on Wednesday read: “I have advised residents to silence but not reset alarm if they are able as response from Orbit isn’t acceptable.”

The tenants are all aged over 60 and the eldest is 92.

A spokesperson for Orbit East said, “A regional engineer from our service contractor, Cirrus, arrived on site at 12.46am, following a call to our customer service centre at 10.40pm.

“While this was within our target four hour call out time, we are sorry for the disturbance caused and are working with our contractor to continually improve our service and response times.”

She added that Cirrus sent the nearest available engineer to the flats.

Duncan Ashworth, manager at North Earlham fire station, said: “The management of the alarm system is a matter for the owners who as the ‘responsible person’ are duty bound to make sure the alarm is in good working order and can be reset if it is activated.

“While we would be happy to discuss possible solutions with the owners the alarm’s management remains a matter for them and their alarm provider.”

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