Disabled guest at Premier Inn abandoned in stairwell for an hour after fire alarm goes off

Helen Coffey
Emily Morison has called for the hotel chain to retrain its staff: Emily Morison

A disabled guest staying at a Premier Inn said she had “the worst experience I have ever had as a wheelchair user” after she was left stranded in a stairwell for over an hour when the fire alarm went off.

Emily Morison, a 24-year-old accessibility blogger, was staying at the London St Pancras Premier Inn with her mother on 14 November for a hospital appointment when the incident occurred.

“I don’t feel like an equal or valuable customer in Premier Inn’s eyes,” she told The Independent.

According to Ms Morison, the fire alarm went off at around 9pm.

“We go to the refuge point (we’re on the fourth floor) and call the bell – nobody comes,” she said.

“After several other hotel guests asked if we needed help, one of them told a member of staff we were stuck.”

Ms Morison says a member of staff informed them they didn’t know where the evacuation chair was, and that the alarm was “probably just someone smoking in their room”.

After most of the guests had been evacuated, Ms Morison says a fire steward came past and said: “Are you waiting for someone? I don’t know where the evacuation chair is.”

Following this, another female hotel guest, who was “equally horrified” at Emily’s predicament, went to fetch help.

Some 50 minutes after the fire alarm had first gone off, another fire steward arrived and asked why Emily hadn’t used the lift to evacuate; she correctly pointed out this isn’t allowed during a fire.

Finally the evacuation chair arrived, only for staff to reveal they had no idea how to use it.

“They experimented using it on each other and couldn’t figure it out,” said Ms Morison.

“All in all I was left waiting in the stairwell for an hour.”

Ms Morison said the experience means she would feel “unsafe” staying at a Premier Inn in future.

“The possibility that a real fire could break out and I’d be stuck in the same scenario is very scary,” she told The Independent.

“A huge fire broke out at a Premier Inn in Bristol recently, which makes it feel all the more worrying. I would hope that following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, all staff working in large buildings would be even more aware of fire safety protocol.

“I think the general attitude of society is that there aren’t many disabled people so it doesn’t matter – the trouble is there are many disabled people who just aren’t seen as they are scared to go out due to incidents like this.”

According to Ms Morison, neither the duty manager nor any other member of staff apologised during or after the incident.

“[The duty manager] said I should be evacuated but she wasn’t sure how, then left. Following that, we saw no staff and nothing was said when we checked out,” said Ms Morison.

She called for Premier Inn to retrain its staff “as a matter of urgency”, both in how to safely evacuate all guests from a building and what the laws are around equality and accessibility.

Ms Morison also shared her experience on Twitter in a post that has been shared more than 2,300 times at the time of writing.

“Had there been a large scale fire, this would have been disastrous!” commented one user.

Another wrote: “My blood just ran cold reading this! My mum is paralysed from the chest down and the thought of her going through this terrifies me.”

A Premier Inn spokesperson told The Independent: “We apologise unreservedly for the issues encountered by Emily during her stay and have reached out to her directly to discuss the matter further.

“We have stringent fire evacuation procedures, including those for disabled and restricted mobility guests, and a full investigation has already been launched to establish exactly what occurred.

“Whilst our initial investigation suggests this wholly unacceptable incident is an isolated one, we are absolutely committed to taking on board any lessons learned, including the re-training of our entire team in respect of the use of evacuation chairs.”

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