'Fire door safety devices were removed in blaze home to help frailest patients'

SAFETY catches on fire doors in a nursing home where 14 residents died in a blaze had been removed, an inquiry was told yesterday.

Closure devices designed to keep doors shut and prevent fires from spreading had been removed on "several" bedroom doors at the Rosepark Nursing Home in Lanarkshire at the behest of residents.

Matron Bridget Boyle, who was in charge of implementing the home's fire safety policy, told a Fatal Accident Inquiry the fasteners had been disabled following complaints from residents that they made the doors too heavy to open.

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As well as the 14 deaths, four residents were injured after the blaze broke out in a cupboard at the home, on 31 January, 2004.

The inquiry, being held at the Gospel Literature Outreach Centre in Motherwell, is trying to establish the full circumstances of the tragedy, to prevent a similar fire from happening again and to establish whether any precautions could have been taken to avoid the deaths.

Ms Boyle, who had worked at the home for five years, told the inquiry that some of the fire doors were regularly left open so that staff could monitor the frailest patients.

She also said that, following a risk assessment consultation, the door closure devices were disabled, because some residents had complained about the difficulty of opening their doors with the devices in place.

She said: "There were occasions when a resident wanted a door to be kept open for their safety – if they were very frail."

When asked by Crown counsel James Wolffe, QC, if a door would always be kept open if requested by one of the residents, she replied: "Yes, it would.

"Some of the residents couldn't open the doors themselves. They would have to call for a nurse to get them out of their room – some people didn't have the power to open the door themselves."

Ms Boyle added that the devices had been disabled by the home's caretaker in a move authorised by Thomas Balmer, one of Rosepark's owners.

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She said Mr Balmer had consulted with staff from the local health board, who had approved the removal of a mechanism at the top of the door that activated the closure device.

"He said a gentleman had said it was safe to take it off because all the rooms had been fire-proofed," she said.

Ms Boyle also described the fire evacuation and testing proceedings used by staff at the home.

She said she had been taught herself – and had instructed new staff – to check the area where a fire alarm had sounded thoroughly, and also to feel the fire doors with their hands to make sure that they were not unusually warm.

She also said that staff were told always to contact the fire brigade if an alarm sounded.

The hearing has previously been told that not all the night staff knew what to do in the event of a fire.

The inquiry, before Sheriff Principal Brian Lockhart, continues.

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