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Firefighters defy rules to rescue family

PUBLISHED: 14:03 24 September 2009 | UPDATED: 16:27 07 September 2010

Susanna Wilkey KENTISH Town firefighters came to the rescue of a family trapped in a lift after 999 controllers said no-one could attend as their policy was to leave it to engineers. Arthur Barnett Jr, his wife and four-year-old daughter and two others b

Susanna Wilkey

KENTISH Town firefighters came to the rescue of a family trapped in a lift after 999 controllers said no-one could attend as their policy was to leave it to engineers.

Arthur Barnett Jr, his wife and four-year-old daughter and two others became trapped in a new student block in Huddleston Road, Tufnell Park.

They pressed the button to call lift engineers and were left waiting for more than an hour.

Mr Barnett's wife suffered a panic attack and his daughter was forced to relieve herself in the corner of the lift.

But when a 999 operator was called, she said they had to wait for engineers because they had already called them.

Thankfully, their local fire brigade was more sympathetic.

Mr Barnett said: "With my wife who is claustrophobic and a four-year-old daughter you can well imagine that the ordeal was very dramatic and frightening.

"At the start of the incident, the doors were completely sealed, the light and intense heat meant that the lift was hot and we were afraid that we may run out of oxygen."

They repeatedly banged on the door to alert residents who wedged the door open with a broom and passed through water.

The new policy of relying on engineers has been introduced recently to reduce the number of calls to lift incidents firemen have to attend.

Fortunately, the Kentish Town firefighters had recently carried out an inspection of the new block and when they were contacted by the desk at the student block they agreed to attend.

Mr Barnett added: "It is extremely disturbing in a situation where five lives are at risk to be told that the Fire Brigade no longer deals with lift rescues but instead it is left to a commercial private company."

Kentish Town firefighter and Fire Brigade Union representative Ben Sprung said: "This policy has not been properly thought through and there has not been enough consultation or advice for the private sector for them to cope.

"In terms of safety, it is also ludicrous. The experience was humiliating and embarrassing for those in the lift.

"It was also dangerous. Had a resident not heard those trapped, they could have been in serious danger. People who will be affected from this new policy are those who live in old tower blocks with rubbish lifts. It will be vulnerable people who will suffer.

"I am very proud to do my job and serve the people of London and I am proud of the level of service that we are able to provide. I would hate to see that this is a sign of things to come."

A London Fire Brigade spokesman said: "We will always attend genuine emergencies where people need to be rescued.

"But the responsibility to make suitable arrangements for lift maintenance and the safe release of anyone shut in lifts is with the owner of a building - not with the emergency services.

"Alongside costing the brigade millions of pounds, these calls could take firefighters away from emergencies like fires or road traffic collisions and reduce the time they can spend training or carrying out community safety work.


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