Mike Mitchell says instead of taking the elevators, he took the stairs at the Lubbock County Courthouse. He tried to open a door inside the stairwell that would lead him to the first floor, but it wouldn't open.
A fire stairwell is a fast escape to safety, especially when you are faced with a life or death situation, like a fire or an attack. But imagine locked doors from inside a stairwell - from which you can't escape. What would you do? You may very well panic. "There was a little bit of panic there," said Mitchell.
Mitchell says he was nearly stuck in a stairwell. Although he wasn't faced with an emergency, he began to think what would happen if he was. "When I turned around on the first floor to go back up the stairs, that door also said this door to remain locked at all times. Fortunately, the door hadn't latched and I was able to get back into the stairs," said Mitchell. "So you could have gotten locked in?" asked NewsChannel 11. "I could have been trapped," he replied.
We wanted to know exactly what happened to Mike that day. With a camera in hand, we entered the same stairwell he did from the third story. We had no idea this was an emergency exit only. There were no signs to let us know when we started our investigation.
We went down to the first floor, and again, we were left to wonder what was going on. "I can't open it," said NewsChannel 11. Even an employee badge wouldn't open the door. Out of six stories, the fourth and third story doors were the only two that were unlocked from the stairwell. That was a frightening thought to Mike at the time. "I was remembering 9/11. I was remembering all those people who got trapped in the stairwell. The doors were locked. They couldn't move throughout the building to get out," said Mitchell.
We took these concerns to Lubbock County Director of Facilities Lyle Fetterly. He says they posted signs Monday to let the public know the stairwell Miechell entered is for emergencies only. "The lower area was locked for security reasons. So, I'm sure when you get down to the bottom of the stairs and you find locked doors, it could be scary. But, and we do apologize to the gentleman, we apologize for not having our signs up," said Fetterly.
Fetterly assures us they have a security system in place that will prevent trappings at this dead end during a fire of even if you're life is being threatened by another human being. "The stairwell is monitored with a camera and we do know about things, so we don't have anybody trapped. The fire marshal has approved our plan and it is safe for the public to be in our courthouse," said Fetterly.
We know the county also uses that stairwell to bring inmates in and out of the courts. That's another reason why they have the doors locked from the inside of the stairwell. We were told by safety experts that sometimes security and life safety issues can conflict with one another.
The county is working to improve security at the courthouse. They are ordering new equipment next month and hiring the personnel to run it next year.
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