January 30, 2006

Fire Alarm Leaves Lawmaker Stranded; Evac-Chairs Stored Two Years In Capitol Attic

By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express (subscribe)

DES MOINES--Representative Mark Kuhn was on the second floor of Iowa's Capitol meeting with members of the Easter Seals to discuss how to help farmers with disabilities.

Suddenly the fire alarms sounded and Kuhn, who has used a wheelchair since a farm accident last year, found himself stranded.

"I was right next to the handicap-accessible elevator and the doormen told me I could not use that elevator to evacuate the building so I asked them, 'How am I going to get out?'" Kuhn told the Associated Press.

Kuhn was told he could have state troopers haul him down the stairs, or he could just wait to see if there was any real danger.

"I wasn't looking forward to being hoisted into a gurney due to my condition and carried down the steps, even thought that might be the only way I could get out of there," Kuhn said.

Thankfully, the emergency turned out to be a false alarm, but not before Kuhn resolved to call for a review of the state's emergency evacuation policies, and, particularly, those of the four-story Capitol building itself.

State facilities officials admitted shortly afterward that five chairs designed to evacuate persons with physical disabilities had been delivered to the Capitol more than two years ago, but that they had not been installed.

Instead, they have been stored in the attic.

The Des Moines Register reported Friday that officials had begun pointing fingers over who is responsible for the mix-up.

Legislative facilities manager Mark Willemssen said that there had been concerns that the Evac-Chairs would not fit through the narrow, twisting staircases on the Capitol's two upper wings. According to the Des Moines Register, the staircases in the Rotunda are straight.

John TenPas, a disability consultant with the state's Division of Persons with Disabilities, said that he delivered the chairs in November 2003, and trained five volunteers, including Willemssen, to use the devices within the Capitol in April 2004.

Mollie Anderson, director of the Department of Administrative Services, said Willemssen stored the devices in the attic while looking for something more "congruent with the building."

By week's end, two of the devices had been put near the House and Senate chambers for use on the central "grand stairway".

"Bill Calls For ADA Compliance Review At Capitol" (Associated Press)

"Capitol fails disabled when emergency alarm sounds" (Des Moines Register)

"Finger-pointing at Capitol over safety issues" (Des Moines Register)

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Posted on January 30, 2006