By Teresa Wright Constable

A fire alarm recently set off at the Atlantic Technology Centre in Charlottetown raised questions for a Charlottetown man about the building’s emergency evacuation procedures for people with disabilities.

Fraser MacPhee, a computer programming student at Holland College, was in the basement of the MG building for a technology job fair on June 20, when fire alarms in the building suddenly began to blare.

Everyone evacuated, but MacPhee was left behind. He is in a wheelchair and could not climb the stairs to the exits.
It was never an option to use the elevator, because when fire alarms go off, all elevators in the building are programmed to return to the main floor and shut down, officials with the technology centre told The Guardian.

“It took about 10 minutes for someone to come back and get me — and even at that point, it seemed like there was nothing they could do, and there was no way of getting me out of the building,” MacPhee told The Guardian in an interview.

The staff fire safety representative, who did finally approach MacPhee didn’t have the elevator- override key, however, nor could she locate it.

“And this is after we’d been waiting — I thought there should be something more in place for that.”

As it turned out, the alarm was set off by a bag of popcorn left to burn in a microwave. But MacPhee is still concerned, saying he felt at the time no one in the building knew what to do for a person with disabilities in the case of an emergency.

Doug McNeil, general manager for ATC, said there is a fire evacuation procedure in place in the building, but since this was the first time an unplanned alarm went off in the building, things got a little confused.

He said it took so long for the designated fire safety representative to approach MacPhee because the alarm went off during lunch hour.

“Everything doesn’t always go exactly as you’d hoped …and the fire wardens in the building didn’t assign some body else to the task when it was lunchtime, so some of the fire wardens weren’t there.” With regards to the missing elevator key, McNeil admitted this, too, was an oversight.

“That was a glitch. Every body thought they knew where the key was, but the key wasn’t there. We couldn’t find it.”

He said this concern has since been addressed and a manual override key will now placed in a firebox outside the building where firefighters can access it in case of emergency. Another key will be provided t the building’s security desk.

McNeil said there is also procedure in the building’s fire safety code that shows fire safety representatives on staff the proper method of carrying a disabled person up the stairs, should a fire or other disaster compromise the elevators.

This is just one of many tire safety procedures in place in the building, McNeil said.

“The safety officer gets reports from each of the floors, to see if they’re empty. And if there’s one or two or more physically challenged people, the safety officer will work with the tenants and whoever he or she can to make sure that per son is removed from the building as soon as possible,” he said.