Public in Danger in County Hall
by Pat Dodd Racher, 7 November 2012
Sign in at County Hall. Sign the fire register, yes, but how I dislike signing the ‘good behaviour’ undertaking, which outlaws all modern methods of recording meetings, other than pen and paper. Wait for an escort to the public gallery area, which I know is locked away from the rest of County Hall. I ask how to exit in a hurry. The answer, from a very polite young lady, was “Telephone and someone will come.”
This is not reassuring. In a dire emergency, who would remember the folk locked in the public gallery, high above the council chamber?
On the way out again, I tested the doors we passed: locked, locked. Down at the very foot of the stairs was a ‘fire exit’ with two sets of double doors. The first set of doors had a notice fixed to them, saying “Door alarm is on!! Exit main entrance” (see photo below). I had to ignore this instruction, as I could not reach the main exit – the route is blocked with a locked door.
Nothing happened as I pushed the first set of double doors open, no ear-splitting alarm. I tried the next set of doors. Locked. A fellow member of the public tried, without success. Were there any instructions on how to exit? I could not see any. Perhaps I was just too dim to work out how to open the door — but emergency exits have to work for everyone, not just for locksmiths.
By now, in a real fire, the trapped members of the public could be overcome by smoke or fumes, or might have opted to chance death by jumping from the gallery into the council chamber below.
As someone with claustrophobic tendencies – the first thing I check on a plane is the emergency exit – being locked in makes me feel unsafe. Now I have to report back to the local fire officer, and I hope he will persuade the council that making up their own fire regulations is a very bad idea, and that doors marked ‘fire exit’ must be easily opened from the inside.
Why treat the public in this potentially dangerous manner? I can see that senior officials of the council do not want casual visitors wandering about – who knows what they might see or hear! – but a democratic council should be a welcoming council. Gracious hosts do not lock their guests inside the party venue, and Carmarthenshire should not mistreat the public — voters! — in this way.