CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Council orders smoke alarm tests after woman dies in blaze

Coroner criticised Camden Council after death of Magdalena Fink in Belsize Park blaze

06 July, 2018 — By William McLennan

The aftermath of the Daleham Gardens fire last November

FIRE alarms in council properties will be routinely tested for the first time after failings were identified by a coroner investigating a fatal blaze in Hampstead.

An inquest into the death of a young woman, who was trapped in her flat as flames tore through a council-owned block in Daleham Gardens, had been told that it was “unclear” if the fire alarms had been working at the time. Magdalena Fink, 35, was making a panicked phone call to a friend when she was overcome by smoke at around 3am last November.

Her neighbours believe the alarm closest to her front door did not sound. Nobody at Camden Council was responsible for regularly testing smoke alarms, St Pancras Coroner’s Court was told in April. Senior coroner Mary Hassell said that it was in “disappointing” that the failing had not been discovered by the council in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, which claimed 72 lives five months before Ms Fink’s death.

Ms Hassell wrote to the Town Hall’s housing director after the hearing and said that “there is a risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken”.

In a formal response, obtained by the New Journal, the council has now said that “since the inquest it is recruiting for specific officers to periodically check the operation of battery-operated smoke detectors in those properties that have them”.

The letter, written by acting director of property management, Gavin Haynes, said that “hard-wired fire alarms” – which are connected to mains electricity and would sound inside flats if triggered by an alarm in a communal area – will be installed in all properties at risk of a fire spreading by the end of next year. He said that the fire alarm systems will be mainly installed in “street property conversions or other properties where sufficient compartmentation cannot be achieved”.

Megan Rousseau, who lived next door to Ms Fink in the four-storey block, had told the inquest that she could not hear a fire alarm outside her door and believes she was only alerted to the blaze by her neighbour screaming in the street. Ms Fink’s flat, however, did not have a street-facing window.

Ms Rousseau said she and husband Hugo were “pleased” that Camden had now acted, but added: “It’s disappointing and deeply unfortunate that they did not take the initiative to do this after Grenfell, or even after this fatal fire in one of their own properties and have acted only upon being required to do so by the coroner.

“We’re saddened by the lack of remorse or acceptance of their responsibility for the failures that cost our neighbour her life, nearly cost us ours, and prevented any of us from alerting the fire brigade early enough…which might have saved the building and our belongings.” She added that the council had still made no progress to retrieve residents’ possessions from the burnt-out building, despite repeated appeals.

Mr Haynes said in his letter: “The council would like to take this opportunity to assure Her Majesty’s Coroner that the Council since June 2017 has and continues to undertake a significant programme of work to address fire safety in the homes that it manages.”

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