Burn Senator Burns: Is SAIT safe for people with disabilities?

A fire at SAIT left disabled students and staff trapped on upper floors, which raised questions about safety for people with limited accessibility.

The fire alarm sounded in the Senator Burns building on Friday Oct. 2, 2015 at 12:56 p.m., according to Paladin Security logs from the Paladin security desk on campus.

The Calgary Fire Department arrived on scene at 1:02 p.m. and later determined that the fire was isolated in basement room NN05.  The fire started in a laundry machine in the room. The machine was emitting smoke.

The Calgary Fire Department called the “All Clear” approximately 30 minutes after the alarm first sounded and the evacuees returned to the building.

Jennifer Burton, a professor in the medical radiation technology program, was in the building but on the second floor, when she heard the alarms.

Burton said she didn’t evacuate like everybody else because she has a broken foot. She couldn’t use the elevators and wasn’t even entirely sure that it was a real fire, so instead of evacuating, she went into her office.

“It really made me realize what is lacking for people who have accessibility issues,” said Burton. “I didn’t think it was fair to have my coworkers and students help me down the stairs.”

Burton ended up not even evacuating before the fire was over, and as a staff member she explained that they are only taught how to deal with emergencies if everybody is mobile.

She said that the staircases are filled with students, so they become an unsafe place for people with mobility issues.

Cortney Pulsifer, a student who recently pulled out of SAIT’s Travel and Tourism program, was on the seventh floor of the building when the fire occurred, but she didn’t hear the fire alarms at first.

She said that she and her classmates were unable to hear the fire alarms from inside the classroom, and they wouldn’t have known about the fire if she hadn’t left to go to the washroom. It wasn’t until she had walked into the hallway that she heard the alarms and immediately told her teacher.

Pulsifer tore the tendons in her ankle the second week of school and was unable to walk without crutches. That made the journey down to the first floor nearly impossible without an elevator, which wasn’t operating during the fire.

She said that her life would have been in peril if the emergency had been more severe.

“If it had been a big fire…I would have been screwed,” said Pulsifer.

“Everybody would have been out of the building and I would have been stuck there,” said Pulsifer. “Like do I jump out the window or what?”

She had a plan to hitch a ride on a classmate’s back, but was surprised when a teacher stopped her. She said that the teacher told them that she was a fire hazard, so she would have to stop and wait for security.

Pulsifer waited on the seventh floor for close to 15 minutes before security finally arrived to help her out of the building.

They made her wait on the seventh floor not knowing when help would arrive. Pulsifer said she was stressed and was worried about the nature of the emergency.

She was glad that it was just a small fire or she feared the outcome would have been much worse.

Studies have shown that people with disabilities are at greater risk of injury or death in the event of a fire, according to an online article by the Government of Canada.

It was shown that eight percent of all fire related deaths were people with disabilities, and when looking at fire-related death jumps, the numbers rose to 18 percent of deaths and seven percent of injuries.

Miriam Johnston

Miriam Johnston

I am a third-year Communications Student from Calgary, Alberta as well as a piano teacher. I enjoy writing stories about interesting events. I have many hobbies including learning various languages and drawing. @MLJournalist