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

PUBLISHED: 12:00 13 January 2013 | UPDATED: 16:40 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.

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.”


  • If the alarm goes on for more than twenty minutes, i am sure that you can legally silence it. I had great pleasure many years back smashing a burglar alarm off a wall to shut it up. (this alarm was a factory alarm) all they did when they arrived 2 hours later to turn it off was ask me for the bits.

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    Sunday, January 13, 2013

  • Four hours is an absolutely ridiculous time for a fire alarm to sound. After re-entering the building with the alarm still sounding (which should never be done), what if a fire then occurs? Residents will then be ignoring the alarm putting lives at risk. The all clear from the fire brigade, as was the case here, would be good enough reason for me (if I were a resident), to silence the alarm myself. As others have said, a trained local company should be down to do the job of resetting and checking the panel - but I see no reason why residents can't silence it after an all clear from someone appropriately trained. There is a serious safety flaw here and the company need to review their procedures.

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    Sunday, January 13, 2013

  • Reference the comment above, 20 mins is the maximum time a burglar alarm is supposed to sound this is a fire alarm. A fire alarm should not be reset silenced unless you are 100% sure that there really isn't a fire. I have known people to silence fire alarms and then go back to work. Saying that all the owners have to do is to use a local company, simple.

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    Carol Barnes

    Sunday, January 13, 2013

  • Does this not come under The Noise and Statutory Nuisance Act 1993??? Uner this act if an your intruder alarm sounds continuously for more than 1 hour then the police or local authority can gain a warrant to enter the premises by force to turn it off. And I belive the same applies to both Fire Alarms & Vehicle Alarms. So possibly it worth taking this issue up with local councillors, MP & Environmental Health officers. As clearly if the Act does apply than a wait of up to four hours is illegal. The Noise Abatement Society are normally a good source for the legal situation when it comes to uncaring management & noise issues.

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    Sunday, January 13, 2013

  • Citizens subjected to mental torture of this kind have the right to stop the cause of their unnecessary persecution in whatever reasonable way in the circumstances.The landlord is subjecting their tenants to unnecessary stress.It is also causing wider noise pollution which is unwanted.

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    Peter Watson

    Sunday, January 13, 2013

  • Right, here's what you do. Place the owners (which I assume is Orbit) on notice that the next time there is a false alarm you will all move out of your flats. You will move into an expensive hotel which Orbit will have arranged and undertaken to pay for and you will not return to your flat until the fire alarm is turned off and the Fire Service confirms that it is safe to return to the flats. If you have animals, such as cats and small rodents that are allowed in Housing Association dwellings Orbit will be obliged to send someone along to collect these and will be responsible for caring for them at Orbit's offices with someone on duty 24 hours a day until it is safe for them to return. If it takes longer than that then Orbit shall be required to take these animals to a reputable animal kennels and pay their charges. I can tell you that the first time this happens and Orbit is left with a bill mounting to thousands of pounds they will find a solution PDQ. Don't let them walk all over you. It is their responsibility to ensure that their tenants have quiet enjoyment of their dwellings and they should be forced to pay if they breach that statutory obligation.

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    Monday, January 14, 2013

  • cant they Employ a security company in Norwich to reset the alarm i used to do that, theres plenty in Norwich

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    Sunday, January 13, 2013

  • It is also worth noting that the Health & Safety at work act also covers "others" So if this housing associations management practices are causing mental distress, then it could also be worth asking for them to provide written evidence of a H & S evaluation where they have made mention not just of the well being of tenants during the long wait. But also the consequences of the long wait..If they have failed to take this into account they could be in breech of their duty under H & S law..And it all adds to the pressure that uncaring managers can be put under when they take these could not care less attitudes to others.

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    Sunday, January 13, 2013

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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