Residents of the Dunmurry tower block evacuated after a fire on Wednesday evening were critical no communal alarm went off in the building to alert them to the danger.
One elderly Coolmoyne House resident claimed she only learned of the fire when a police officer pounded at the door to her flat and told her she needed to leave her home.
Nigel Faulkner, 52, was one of the first to spot the fire when he saw smoke coming out from a ninth floor flat after getting off his bus at around 5.30pm.
He called the fire brigade but struggled to alert others to the danger: “When I ran into the bottom hallway I thought there was a button you could hit to alert everybody, but there was nothing.
“I tried to ring a few people I knew through their buzzers. The only way most people found out about the fire was to look out the window and see fire engines.”
Mr Faulkner, who lives on the seventh floor of the tower block, said: “I can’t stay in there at the minute because of the smell of the smoke. It’s sickening.”
Sally Ritchie, 71, was in her flat on the opposite side of the tower block with family members including several young children when they became aware something was not right. She said: “Some of us smelt smoke and then there was an awful moment when we saw the smoke in the corridor and heard the ambulances and fire engines. The wee girls were screaming. We didn’t know how bad it was. “
She added: “I think they need a better alarm system that everybody can hear. They had to rap people’s doors to get them out but if an alarm had gone off people would have known to get out.
“You can’t wait in your flat for smoke to come in and set your alarm off. That’s no way to be alerted.”
She added: “I’ve been living here 12 years. It’s safe enough but that fire has scared the life out of us.”
Another resident said: “I didn’t know anything was wrong until a policeman nearly put my door in to get me out.”
One of the building’s caretakers commented: “There’s not as much smoke inside as there was outside. Everything worked as it should have. After Grenfell I think everybody was worried but these flats are tested regularly and they’ve passed everything so far.”
Yesterday morning DUP leader Arlene Foster visited the location and spoke with residents. She told the News Letter: “In terms of the response from emergency services and volunteers I think it’s been a really good example of how people come together.”
She added: “I think the concern from residents is that panic set in. Obviously from Grenfell everyone is very wary about a situation like this developing into something much worse, thankfully that wasn’t the case.
“We want to listen to residents’ concerns and take them forward with the Housing Executive and the fire service.”
Julie-Ann Jackson – vice chair of the local residents group – said due to the blaze three people were living in temporary accommodation, seven were staying in the Beechlawn hotel and a small number of others were staying with family members.
She said: “If it had happened at one in the morning it would have been a different scenario. Although the alarm went off in the flat where the fire started none of the other alarms went off.
“We’re going to be meeting with relevant agencies to see what can be done to give reassurances to residents that something can be put in place to alert the whole tower block.”