Video: Elderly residents forced to wait outside Ipswich care home for six hours for fire alarm to be turned off

DOZENS of elderly and infirm residents of a sheltered housing complex were forced to spend six hours in the street after a “unbearable” fire alarm could not be switched off.

The alarm first sounded in the building in Winchester Way, just off Stoke Park Drive, at around 4.45pm yesterday.

But it was not until 10.35pm that it was silenced when an engineer finally arrived – from Dorset.

Fire crews were called to the buildings and checked the property but determined it was a false alarm and declared the area safe.

But after crews left police received several further calls about the noise and asked the fire service to return to the property.

Fire crews went back but were not able to turn off the deafening racket in case a real fire did start and it had been disabled. Fire service area commander Carl Francis said: “Our procedure is when we attend a premises with the alarm sounding, we check there’s no fire.

“The rule is that we can silence the alarm once we’re happy there’s no fire and the responsibility to reset the alarm is with the occupier or key holder.

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“However, what we sometimes find is these panels are locked. I’m sure the crew, if they could have silenced the alarm, would have. The responsibility will always remain with the manager of the property.”

The residents contacted Orbit Housing, the company that manages the buildings, and reported the problem, asking them to send someone out to silence and reset the alarm.

While many of the building’s 35 residents waited outside, thankful for the dry weather, some were too ill or frail to leave their rooms and were stuck inside with the dizzyingly loud noise.

After hours of waiting, the residents contacted Orbit Housing again, only to discover that the problem had been logged as a repair – not a reset – meaning they could expect at least a four hour wait.

They were warned not to switch off the alarm themselves as they would be liable if a real fire occurred.

But as resident Barbara Gardner, 73, pointed out: “With that unbearable noise going off, how would they know if there was a real fire?”

Boris Worrall, director of external affairs for the Orbit group, told the Star: “We’re very sorry for any inconvenience this has caused.

“We’ve been in contact with the contractor that carries out this work for us on a constant basis over the last couple of hours.”

Mr Worrall declined to disclose the name of the contractor involved.

The problem was eventually solved by 10.35pm when the contractor arrived and was able to turn off and reset the alarm.

Resident Iris Carpenter, 84, lives in one of the flats opposite the affected building. She said: “I asked him where he’d come from and he said Dorset.”

Fire service area commander Carl Francis added: “I have concerns for the people of Walsingham Court and we’ll do what we can to follow it up.

“There is a legal responsibility for them to have systems in place to manage these issues. Six hours is beyond what we would consider to be reasonable.”