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‘My hearing still feels odd’ - Misery of hours-long fire alarms for Norwich tenants

Residents Pauline Taylor and Vivienne Bolton with the fire alarm at Helgate Court, Norwich.  
Picture: Neil Didsbury

Residents Pauline Taylor and Vivienne Bolton with the fire alarm at Helgate Court, Norwich. Picture: Neil Didsbury

Archant

People in Norwich say a housing association rule means they must spend hours with their fire alarms blaring before anyone can turn it off.

Frustration over fire alarm. Resident Vivienne Bolton knows how to silence the fire alarm at Helgate Court but is not allowed to.  Picture: Neil DidsburyFrustration over fire alarm. Resident Vivienne Bolton knows how to silence the fire alarm at Helgate Court but is not allowed to. Picture: Neil Didsbury

People living in Helgate Court, on Westwick Street, have long had issues with their fire alarm system, with complaints that it is too loud, too frequent - and takes too long to turn off.

Housing association Orbit only lets its fire wardens switch off the alarm, with neither residents nor the fire service entitled to do so.

They said in the past they had waited as long as four or five hours to see it switched off - with the fire warden driving up from Dorset on one occasion.

And during the most recent activation, they said it took three hours before the warden arrived from Peterborough to switch it off.

Vivienne Bolton, 68, who has lived at the complex for seven years, said: “If I burn a piece of toast in my flat, an industrial alarm in each flat goes off.”

The sheltered housing complex is for those aged over 55, but Ms Bolton said there are some vulnerable people at Helgate who are left distressed by the alarms.

“They were hysterical,” she said. “You can’t hear it constantly without going mad, it’s just unbelievably loud. They had to wait nearly five hours on Christmas Day once.

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

“It’s been some time and I still feel shaken up and tearful from it. My hearing still feels odd, like it’s a bit numb.”

She said if, while they were waiting for the alarm to be switched off, another fire broke out, they would not be aware of the danger, and said other housing associations had a key-holder system, where someone is entitled to switch it off once it is safe.

A few years ago, the residents spoke out to complain that the alarm was too loud and went off to frequently. Since then, the decibel level has been lowered and the number of activations has decreased.

Neil Yeomans, head of property compliance at Orbit said health and safety of customers was of “paramount importance” and that the alarm at Helgate complies with industry best practice guidance over volume levels.

“We apologise for the delay and any distress caused regarding the alarm sounding for longer than necessary and have since discovered this was due to an administrative error,” he said.

“We will continue to test the alarm once a week to ensure the further safety of our customers and we will work with our contractors to ensure that a prompt call-out is achieved should the alarm sound again in the future.”

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