Check into safety of hotel rooms – or check out

Published 11:57 pm Friday, April 15, 2016

As travel season draws near, many safety checklists are available to prepare for various less-than-desirable events that happen on the road.

Some safety equipment and associated checklists, however, are entrusted to others to be encountered on the journey. Fire that swept through part of the Budget Inn in Sardis City on April 2 demonstrates that sometimes that trust is misplaced.

Christopher David Cantrell, 36, Attalla, is charged with one count of first-degree arson, which is a felony, State Fire Marshal Ray Cumby said. Cantrell allegedly started the fire in the room he rented.

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The second arrest in the case really gave us pause, however.

Hotel operator Suresh Desai, 55, Boaz, is charged with 26 counts of reckless endangerment and one count of neglecting fire safety requirements for hotel owners and operators, according to Sardis City Police Chief James Harp. All are misdemeanors. The reckless endangerment counts include some of the 50 or so guests occupying 20 rooms when the fire was set.

Desai’s charges stem from the fact the fire alarm and fire extinguishers inside the hotel had not been serviced in more than a year. As a hotel operator, he is required to have properly working smoke detectors in each room. However, the investigation revealed many rooms did not have smoke detectors and the detectors weren’t working in those that did.

Cumby described the hotel as “a death trap.”

The fact no one was injured is miraculous. About 5 a.m. April 2, Officer Jeremy Sides of the Sardis Police Department was on patrol in the area when he noticed smoke coming from the back of the building. He, Officer Derek Wilson of the Boaz Police Department and another officer went room to room, waking guests and helping them evacuate.

How many of us think about checking fire extinguishers, smoke alarms and sprinkler heads when making reservations or checking in to accommodations? It’s a sure bet those 50-odd people roused at the Budget Inn will, but what about the rest of us?

The Hotel and Motel Fire Safety Act of 1990 sets forth rigourous standards for owners and operators, but it is up to each traveler to make sure those standards are being met. The National Fire Protection Association offers these tips:

• Choose a hotel/motel that is protected by both smoke alarms and a fire sprinkler system. (Note from us: Test the alarm to make sure it works, or ask a staff member to do so. Reluctance is a red flag.)

• When you check in, ask the front desk what the fire alarm sounds like.

• When you enter your room, review the escape plan posted in your room.

• Take the time to find the exits and count the number of doors between your room and the exit. Make sure the exits are unlocked. If they are locked, report it to management right away.

• Keep your room key by your bed and take it with you if there is a fire.

• If the alarm sounds, leave right away, closing all doors behind you. Use the stairs — never use elevators during a fire.

• If you must escape through smoke, get low and go under the smoke to your exit.

If you can’t escape:

• Shut off fans and air conditioners.

• Stuff wet towels in the crack around the doors.

• Call the fire department and let them know your location.

• Wait at the window and signal with a flashlight or light-colored cloth.

One more note: If you find an owner or operator who does not take inquiries about fire safety seriously, find another place to stay. Then, notify the local fire department. Fire personnel have told us they would rather do an inspection than respond to a devastating blaze.

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