A young Mum has revealed how she and her four year old daughter,”cheated death” when faulty fire alarms failed to alert her to a blazing inferno metres from her apartment.
Aoife Moyles, (24), and daughter Leila, were in their home in Navan’s Academy Square complex, when a fire began in an underground car park and rapidly spread towards hundreds of apartments.
She told Meath Live, “ I was outside having a cigarette when it started and no alarm went off in our block, I have checked with neighbours since and they have confirmed that.
“Even if I had heard the main fire alarm it wouldn’t have made me react as for the two weeks I have been living here that has been going off at random intervals and I would have assumed it was a false alarm, I know many residents did think exactly that.
“It was only when I noticed the smoke coming towards my block that I grabbed Leila and ran outside, if I hadn’t noticed it we faced a big problem.
“When we got out thick smoke was coming up through a grate at the front and minutes later it hit our block.
“ It was around thirty minutes or so after the blaze erupted that the alarm in our block went off.
“I am fortunate in that my actual apartment wasn’t damaged but the risk assessors are concerned that the foundations could cave in so they have made me move out and I am being told it will be six months to a year before I can return.
“Meath county council did offer me hostel accommodation in Drogheda but it didn’t suit as Leila goes to school in Navan and while I can drive I only have a provisional licence and must be accompanied by a full licence holder, so I had to turn that offer down.
“ At the moment I am sleeping on a couch in my mothers and Leila is with her dad, I am lucky in that regard I know others are not so fortunate.
“I only moved in a fortnight ago and spent thousands doing up Leila’s room and now I back homeless again.
“I am devastated over what has happened but when I look back I am just delighted we are still here, I feel like I cheated death by minutes”.
Other residents would only talk under a guarantee of anonymity but backed up Aoife’s claims about the fire alarms.
One said, “ The fire alarms had been going off like crazy recently I had to go down at 1am the week before and ring the fire alarm company, Ideal Fire in Dublin, about one as it kept going off all through the night even though there was no fire.
“Even my own alarm was flickering up the message that there was afire when their wasn’t.
‘The guy who answered the phone talked me through how to switch it off and told me someone would be down the next day to fix it but nobody turned up.
“ Then a guy who lives in one of the apartments told me his alarm didn’t go off for half an hour after the fire started as the company never came back to fix it.
“On the night of the fire I doubt if anyone took it seriously when it went off, I know myself I didn’t as they had been going off for weeks non stop and we have constantly had to get them disabled.
“Like the story of the boy who cried wolf nobody took the alarm as a message to get out seriously when it was needed as it had been going off all the time.
“It was only when we saw and smelt the smoke we reacted”.
Another claimed, “ I’ve been in touch with the fire alarm company myself and nothing was ever done, in fact, on the night of the fire the alarms on our block didn’t go off until half an hour after the fire had started at which point most of us were already outside”.
They revealed that despite being advised of potential fire hazards in the underground car park no remedial action was taken by the management company, Oriel Property Management, from Dundalk.
One said, “The steel shutters on the entrance to the car park have been broken for months and that has allowed people, many of whom don’t live here, to dump rubbish there.
‘To be fair the management company did remove some but not all of it and when the blaze started the rubbish went up as well.”
“ The dividing wall between the car park and the outdoor green area is wooden so that caught fire as well, it really should be a steel wall I am sure there would be health and safety issues around that.”
.However in statements both the alarm company and the property management company have strongly denied residents allegations.
A spokesman from Ideal Fire said, ” We did not install the alarms initially but we are responsible for their maintenance.
“If a resident calls in with a problem we try and sort it, the week before the fire the day after one of our team helped a lady switch off an alarm we have a report that says there was a crew member on site.
” It is understandable that residents may not have been aware of this as our operative would go direct to the alarm and have no need to interact with anyone as he would have been made aware of the fault in the original call.
“However if there is a bigger job that requires remedial work then we must first receive instruction from the management company”.
Oriel Property Management said, “ This is not the case, the fire started behind the hoarding in the Car Park, which is an area that is not under ownership nor control of the management company nor it’s agents. If there was an rubbish in this area, this is a question that need’s to be directed to the owners of this site, as the management company nor its agents does not have access to this unfinished section
“Stand alone wooden hoardings are not deemed a hazard
“I’m not aware of any inspection by the Local Authority Fire Officers in the years prior to our assuming the management of the complex and I can confirm that no inspections have taken place in the past 12 months during our management tenure
“We took over the management of the complex in late July 2022
“I understand that you have been in contact with the contractor that tests and certifies the fire alarm, emergency lighting, hose reel’s and extinguishers in the complex. This I believe is on foot of a claim that the systems did not work and or are faulty.
“This is not the case in any way, shape or form and all systems are working, are tested in accordance with the regulations in place and full certification has been achieved on each test.
“One of the critical tasks that we undertook upon appointment as managing agents in July 2022, was to review the fire alarm, emergency lighting, hose reel’s, fire door systems and ordinary lighting lux levels within the complex.
“What we found from records, of the previously engaged contractors by the last managing agent, was that these systems were not been maintained properly at all and in some cases actually posed a hazard to life.
“As such, a large body of repair and upgrade works were commenced during the financial year to May 2023 and we have achieved full and verifiable certification on these systems. It was very evident on the night of the fire event, that the systems in place worked exactly as they should and warned residents of the danger.”
A Garda investigation is currently underway into suspected arson and Meath Fire Service have confirmed they dealt with a smaller fire at the same area of the complex the night before the main blaze.