We’ve become aware of a worrying report about an incident at the Birmingham Hilton Metropole Hotel last weekend. A gentleman, who would like to remain anonymous, has told us about his experience. His fiancee has a complex congenital neuromuscular disorder, causing lack of balance, muscle loss, reduced feeling in extremities, chronic fatigue, back problems, and nerve damage, and is a wheelchair user.

When they arrived at the hotel, they requested an accessible room, and asked if the doors were wheelchair accessible. You would think this would tip the hotel off that there was a wheelchair user in the party, right? Apparently not. 

There was a scheduled fire alarm test at 8.30am on Monday 28th October. Signs around the hotel indicated this and that there was no need to evacuate, and the test passed without incident. About half an hour later, the fire alarm sounded again, while they were in their accessible first floor room.

Unsure whether to evacuate, it took ten minutes of searching the corridors to locate a cleaner, who said it was a real fire and they needed to evacuate. They were directed to a stairwell and security was called by the cleaner. When a lone security person arrived, he said he wasn’t trained to use the evacuation chair, so the disabled person in question was made to walk down the stairs, while the security person carried the wheelchair. The person in question is unsteady on her feet, even on level ground, but, since they had been told it was a real fire, they were given no option other than to evacuate by walking down the stairs, her fiance helping to steady her. As you might imagine, this was extremely stressful and distressing, not to mention painful.

It took around 20 minutes for them to exit the building, and after 10 minutes, they were told it had been a drill and they could go back inside.

Having been made to walk down the steps caused a great deal of pain, not just while walking, but for the rest of the day, making the journey home very unpleasant, and has continued- she is still in pain today as a result of this. And understandably, this has caused a great deal of anxiety about future hotel stays.

The distress was compounded by being incorrectly informed there was a real fire.

All that was offered as compensation for this ordeal were drinks vouchers!

The manager of the hotel has responded to feedback on TripAdvisor, saying they were unaware of her needs, otherwise they’d have offered a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan and would be allocated to their Accessibility Evacuation Team,

So, clearly, requesting an accessible room, arriving with a wheelchair, AND asking about wheelchair accessiblity is not enough for the Hilton Birmingham Metropole to register that someone uses a wheelchair.

Under the Equality Act 2010, service providers are required to make reasonable adjustments to allow disabled people the same access to services as anyone else. A failure to make such reasonable adjustments is disability discrimination.

In the Fire Safety Risk Assessment Supplementary Guide: Means of Escape for Disabled People (2007) based on the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety Order) 2005:

  • disabled people should be provided with adequate means of escape, including a suitable escape plan.
  • part of the booking-in procedure (for a hotel) should include the offer of a suitable escape plan
  • what a disabled person is prepared to do in exceptional circumstances may differ significantly from what they can reasonably manage in their everyday activities
  • the level of effort required of a disabled person may not be acceptable for a practice or false alarm or in everyday activities
  • it may be more appropriate to simulate carry-down so as not to cause unnecessary risk to the disabled person
  • it is necessary for the evacuation policy to include a method of reducing or removing the need (for disabled people) to escape for a false alarm
  • is essential that when (evacuation chairs) are purchased a suitable training system is also implemented

Even the hotel’s own policies were breached:

  • A Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan was not offered on check in
  • A Hotel Accessibility Pack was not offered at check in
  • Staff did not “offer(ed) the opportunity to discuss and outline any special requirements or assistance you may need should an evacuation of the hotel be necessary as a result of fire or other emergency”
  • Staff failed to “highlight to disabled guests the facilities available, to discuss a personal emergency evacuation plan with guests if necessary, to be observant and to enquire whether a disabled guest requires assistance”
  • There was no sign of an Accessibility Evacuation Team
  • Hotel policies state disabled guests requiring assisted evacuation should remain in their rooms, contrary to what staff said on this occasion

Also:

It would seem unwise to put wheelchair users on the first floor, without the trained staff to evacuate them

Evacuation chairs are useless if no one is trained to use them

One might expect staff to pay even closer attention to evacuation policies for disabled people when a drill is planned.

It’s worrying to think about what would had happened, had there been a real fire, had this person not been able to walk down the stairs, albeit with difficulty, or had she been alone.

We’ve helped write a letter to Hilton Hotels about this matter, and are looking into reporting it to the local Environmental Health Service, who are responsble for Health and Safety at hotels.

As always, we’ll keep you updated.