Fiona Stewart: My troubling story shows hotel staff can’t be trusted to wake up deaf residents in a fire

Posted on May 22, 2016

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After The Limping Chicken recently published an article titled: Ask the Chicken: What rights do deaf people have to accessible fire alarms in hotels? which discussed what Deaf people’s rights to have vibrating fire alarms in the hotels in UK, I decided to share a bad experience I had with fire alarms in hotels.

Last year, my family and I were invited to a family wedding in Perth, Scotland, so a few months prior to the wedding a family member decided to book at the Mecure Hotel in the Perth City Centre, which seemed nice enough.

So I tweeted them to say I would be staying there and that I’m Deaf and to ask if they had any accessible fire alarms for the Deaf. They replied saying they had no equipment available.

I thought that was strange and tweeted back, saying I thought all hotels should have some sort of reasonable adjustments made in case of emergency events for Deaf/disabled people.

88230F13-1713-4775-A8FC-C0A2A60C6C22AA706C56-7F87-491C-934B-7687EC0F8542But I was going to be staying with my family in the same hotel and thought it would be ok as they would have a spare key for my room and they’d let the staff know about me. How wrong was I?

When the big day arrived, my family and I travelled up to Perth and went to the hotel to get ready. However whilst checking in, I told the staff at the reception that I was Deaf and they said they didn’t have any accessible fire alarms.

I’d naively thought that sometime in between my tweet and the date of my check in, they would realised that it was necessary to sort something out, but nope.

So I explained that I would need to be notified in event of a fire alarm and I wrote this down on the check-in sheet too. I explicably stated that someone would have to come in and get me if a fire alarm went off.

I was reassured by the staff that they had taken this on board and someone would come to tell me. I was fine with this, rushed off to the room so I could get ready and have some fun.

Hours later, after thoroughly enjoying the wedding, and being slightly tipsy as well as nursing sore feet after doing some over-enthusiastic dancing (rather badly I may add), I headed off to bed.

The next thing I knew, I was woken up by a bright light in my room at the ungodly time of 8am (not good if you’re hungover by the way)…. I’d thought something had happened then I could see my mum standing in my room.

I was quite disorientated as I was still sleepy and as I hadn’t put on my glasses- no wonder things were blurry but it could also have been down to the copious amount of drink I’d downed the night before.

I could just about make out my mum talking to someone but I also hadn’t put on my Cochlear Implant, I didn’t know what was being said.

Minutes later, my mum said that the fire alarm had gone off. I immediately sat up and started to gather my stuff to get out but she indicated that the fire alarm had stopped. She then explained that at 7am, the fire alarm had gone off and it turned out I was left in the room while everyone was evacuated!

I was gobsmacked and incredulous at what my mum had to tell me about the whole incident.

This is what happened according to my family.

At 7am, the fire alarm went off. Then my parents got out of the room and my mother went up to a member of staff to ask if I had been evacuated. She was reassured that I had got out of my room and was ok.

Relieved, my mum told my dad that I was out and they proceeded to make their way to the meeting point in the hotel’s car park. There they met my brother and his wife who was staying at the same hotel. My parents thought I was with my brother and sister-in-law.

However, it soon dawned on them that I was not with them nor anywhere in the car park, but that I was still in my room-fast asleep!

My mother then raced over to the hotel and told the hotel manager and the firefighters that they had missed me. This is where the confusion carried on, according to the firefighters, I was DEFINITELY evacuated as the staff had informed them that everyone had been accounted for(!).

So my parents, who were very upset and worried at this point while I was snoring away, totally oblivious to the entire situation, demanded that my room was checked to see if I was there.

Luckily at this point, it was revealed to be a case of false alarm-someone had a shower and left the bathroom door wide open thus triggering the alarm with the steam, so everyone could go back inside.

My mother then marched the manager and fireman up to my room and made them look in the room to see I was sleeping, which was rather unfortunate as I looked a mess and was drooling… But who cares? It was literally a matter of life or death (well it could have been).

I later spoke to a member of staff as I wanted to know exactly why I had been left in the room and the staff assumed I was out.

It transpired that the person responsible, who knew I was Deaf and went to check my room, did not do their job properly. That person had claimed that he did open the door but he didn’t see me as it was too dark, so naively assumed that I was out.

The bed was hidden behind the wall for the bathroom so the bed was not in the direct view of the door hence the need for him to actually come into the room.

He also stated that during the evacuation, he was distracted by other guests asking him for directions and advice.

I also strongly suspect that he opened the door and yelled “FIRE ALARM.” He also admitted that he didn’t flick the lights on and off as per the hotel’s procedures.

As soon as I came home, I got onto my computer and sent off a strongly worded email, explaining how annoyed and upset I was. I even reeled off some information about disability discrimination laws and legal responsibilities for the hotels (I’m clearly in the wrong career here!).

Eventually, I got a response from the hotel manager who had apologised for the incident and explained what had happened. She also went on to say that all the staff were to do a refresher training on the evacuation procedures and they were in process of purchasing the DeafGard alarm.

I really do hope they did just that or the next time could be fatal (I really hope that won’t be the case).

It is a scary thing to think about, especially when it could have easily been a real fire and I had NO way of knowing if a fire had happened.

I also have to mention the fact that the standard windows in the hotel rooms don’t even open wide enough to escape through- thumbs up for health and safety!

So I think DeafGard alarms should be made available in every hotels so Deaf people can enjoy their stay without worrying about getting burnt to a crisp but alas that’s not always the case.

I can understand why some staff are wary of entering the room, especially at night and well, you never know what they’ll end up seeing in the room.

I get it that people are entitled to their privacy in their rooms at hotels but if it comes down to a matter of life and death, I don’t think it really matters if they get interrupted while biting the heads off jelly babies or sleeping, or whatever they’re doing…

Surely there is a more effective way to alert Deaf people in hotels?

Without having someone to come in to inform them of an emergency or all the faff that come with trying to explain at the reception what exactly is a DeafGard is and why you need it, and explaining the difference between a Deaf fire alarm and a vibrator.

Well, that’s a whole different story…

UPDATE: One of our readers has added on Facebook:

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Fiona describes herself as: “a profoundly Deaf Cochlear Implant user Scottish girl who loves anything geeky. Im passionate about helping Deaf children, Deaf education in Scotland and I used to work for NDCS Scotland as Family Support and Participation Officer on the See Hear Project in Dumfries and Galloway. When I’m not working, I like to binge watch on Netflix, doing fun stuff and spending time with my cute Deaf puppy- Harley.” She tweets as @Mynameisnotfifi

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