Westfield accused of not heeding previous experiences of shoppers being trapped behind self-locking fire exit doors

"Sad and angry": Tom Cooper says big stores in the Miranda complex have improved fire exit doors, but Westfield appears to have done nothing in the common areas. Picture: Chris Lane

"Sad and angry": Tom Cooper says big stores in the Miranda complex have improved fire exit doors, but Westfield appears to have done nothing in the common areas. Picture: Chris Lane

Tom Cooper says Westfield appears to have learnt nothing from previous experiences of shoppers being trapped in fire escape stairwells.

Mr Cooper, of Yowie Bay, commented after the death of Bernard Gore, 71, who was found on a stairway at Westfield Bondi Junction 21 days after his family reported him missing.

In August 2015, the Leader reported how Mr Cooper became trapped behind a self-locking fire exit door after taking a wrong turn on the lowest level of Westfield Miranda.

An amputee and insulin-dependent diabetic, he had to lift himself off his wheelchair and drag himself up three flights of stairs before he found an unlocked door.

Mr Cooper said, from his observations since, big stores at Miranda had improved fire exit doors, but Westfield appeared to have done nothing in the common areas. 

The thought of this poor man's suffering and death within the sound of shoppers makes me feel so very sad and angry. - Tom Cooper

“The thought of this poor man's suffering and death within the sound of shoppers makes me feel so very sad and angry,” he said.

After Mr Cooper’s experience in 2015, other shoppers reported how they, too, had become trapped.

Helen Cramer, of Oyster Bay, said she wrote to Westfield after her ordeal suggesting exits be better labelled, but never received a reply and never saw any improvement.

In 2015, a Westfield spokeswoman said fire exit doors were self-locking as required by building codes.

She said it was an unfortunate incident, and Westfield was assessing if there was a need for an additional system at fire exits, aside from the existing signage.

The spokeswoman said, in addition to signage, locator maps and a phone number to call, were posted inside stairwells, and they were regularly patrolled.

Last week, Westfield would not comment on previous cases.

A spokeswoman reissued the statement made after Mr Gore’s death, saying Scentre Group, which owns Westfield, offered its deepest condolences to his family.

“Investigations are still underway to determine exactly how these sad and tragic circumstances could have occurred, and Scentre Group will continue to work with police in their investigations,” the statement said.

Mr Cooper said Westfield’s response to him two years ago was “a standard incident letter” that was undated and unsigned, informing him their fire exits complied with Building Code of Australia, part D1 Provision of Escape.

As a “gesture of goodwill”, a $250 gift card had been enclosed.

Mr Cooper said he didn’t want a gift card, but, rather, that Westfield take action to prevent others from a similar ordeal.

Mr Cooper said Westfield said in 2015 such events were rare, but he had been told by their staff there were two on the same day that he was trapped, but those people had a phone and called to have doors opened.

”I don't think possession of a phone should be mandatory in cases of safety and wellbeing,” he said.

“Many older people do not have a phone or are confused using one,” he said.

“Why can't a notice saying ‘Self Locking Door’ be attached on the entry side, or a simple alarm device be fitted on the other side of the locked door,” he said.

”If Westfield do start patrolling these areas, it would not be frequent enough to prevent such events from happening.”

Mr Cooper said he would also like an explanation for why internal fire and emergency exits had to be self locking?

“There is no reason people would break in when they can use the front door, and the external exit only opens one way outward by normal push bar,” he said.

“I think it would be helpful if somebody from a disability authority inspected these exits and gave their opinion on their suitability, if and when an emergency occurs. 

“I notice that the fire authorities have not made any comment on this matter, for or against, which could prove helpful in our understanding of what is needed in the event of a fire.”

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