No fire stopping in ceilings between bedrooms and an emergency exit that led into a storeroom forced closure of Irish asylum seeker centre

A CENTRE for asylum seekers was shut after a fire safety inspection found serious deficiencies including an emergency exit sign that led into a store.

The biggest problem discovered was that no fire stopping had been fitted in ceilings above the accommodation, which would have allowed a blaze spread quickly between bedrooms.

The Westbourne Holiday Hostel in Limerick had been used for housing asylum seekers for more than fifteen years.

In January, the Department of Justice said they were terminating their contract with the centre because of a failure to carry out “essential maintenance”.

The extent of the issues have now been revealed in documents released under FOI including a fire compliance report that detailed fourteen separate failings.

Prepared by a firm of consulting engineers, it contained a long list of “deficiencies” – some relatively minor but some much more serious.

Protected stairways had no firestopping and there were no partitions in the areas above the bedroom ceilings, according to the report from February of 2016.

It said: “Partitions to all bedrooms and corridors are required to be carried up to the underside of the roof/structural floor over or to a fire resisting ceiling.

“It has been established that the partitions at first floor level have not been carried up to the underside of the roof and no cavity barriers have been provided.”

The report said the building needed to be examined more closely and opened up to see if this problem extended to lower levels.

The fire alarm system was not of the required standard, they said, and some detectors were badly placed and far too close to walls.

Doors to bedrooms had no cold smoke seals and self-closing chains were either missing or broken on several doors on the day of the inspection.

The doors that led to the escape stairs were also missing seals and strips that would have helped contain any fire that broke out.

Exit signage in the building was also a problem: “[It] should be maintained throughout i.e. lit at all times and it’s not lit on all escape routes.”

They said signage was actually missing from some of the escape routes and in one instance an emergency exit sign led into a store room.

Other problems included a corridor wall made of timber and nowhere near as fire resistant as it needed to be, and a large gap under a bedroom door that would have allowed smoke to flood underneath.

The report said escape routes were also unsafe. “The escape route from the exits from the link corridors is not acceptable. Adequate steps and guarding should be provided.”

It also said material alterations had been made to the building and it was no longer in compliance with its fire certificate.

A disabled toilet had been converted to a store, even though it had originally on the plans been marked as a bedroom. Changes had also been made in turning a small kitchen into a commercial kitchen.

In October, a second inspection report was undertaken, which said that many of the issues identified had already been addressed and fixed.

However, it conceded that the absence of fire stopping in the roof space was a “critical” issue.

This report said: “It is my opinion that the building as it now stands is quite unsafe, the main problem being the fire stopping in the ceiling space.

“These problems should be remedied without delay as there may be future problems with regard to insurance of premises.”

The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) – which manages housing for asylum seekers – emailed immediately to ask the centre operators when the remedial works would take place.

But by January 5, there had been no update. They wrote in an email: “When do you expect these works to conclude and when do you expect to have the building re-inspected?”

Eleven days later, RIA wrote to say they were terminating their contract with the centre effective by the end of the month.

The 64 male residents of the centre were all moved to different accommodation in the region and the rest of the country.

The Department of Justice in a response said that had made repeated requests to Westbourne to carry out maintenance to “ensure the health and safety” of residents.

They said they had received the compliance report on Westbourne in September of last year which “outlined a number of areas that needed attention”.

The Department said: “RIA sought an inspection of the issues raised in the … report by RIA’s independent inspectorate, QTS Ltd. This was carried out on the same day (14/10/2017).

“It concluded that in general, the fire safety arrangements at Westbourne were good and that there were no safety concerns regarding some of the material alterations.

“It did list a number of works where a plan to address them should be put in place by the contractor. It stated: ‘It is our opinion that there is no heightened or unacceptable risk to continuing use as a residential centre while works are being done and compliance issues confirmed’.”

They admitted that a follow-up report had raised as “critical the issue of a fire stop in the ceiling space”.

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