May 16, 2007

Stop, drop, and... oh never mind

When I was in college, I lived in dorms that were mostly populated by freshmen (the last two years as an RA). What that meant was, among other things, the buildings in which I lived were inordinately fire-alarm-prone, and usually late at night. My job, of course, was to go round up the stragglers (i.e. the people who heard the alarm and decided they didn't feel like getting up) and send them outside. So you can imagine how popular that was in January. Anyway, fire alarms quickly became something not to take all that seriously.

You'd think that would change as an adult, but not really. At my previous office, I can remember several times when the fire alarm would sound, and most people would take a moment and try to figure out whether or not this was something they could get away with ignoring. We're talking people with kids, behaving more or less like college freshmen. In their cases, I think, it was mostly laziness: uncertain danger of fire compared with walking down and perhaps back up eight flights of stairs.

Fast forward to last night, around 11pm. I'm in my apartment, minding my own business, watching a little TV and winding down. All of the sudden, this bell starts going off in the hall. It was a feeble bell, and kind of intermittent, but it was definitely persistent and obviously trying to tell me something. It just wasn't that convincing. It took about fifteen seconds of hearing it for me to realize that it was most likely the building's fire alarm.

My first thought was, "That's your fire alarm? Seriously? Get that fixed, because that's just wrong." The fact that I wasn't sure it was a fire alarm in the first place means there's a problem. I then actually stood in my apartment and debated whether or not I was going to go outside. Part of me still wasn't convinced that what I was hearing was a fire alarm, the other half was flashing back to college and kind of assuming (hoping?) that it was just some false alarm. But I was in a high-rise apartment building, not some freshman college dorm, so the odds of a prank were pretty low.

Of course, hearing the sirens in the distance helped make up my mind. Definitely tipped the scales a bit. I then cursed myself for never getting around to making that renter's insurace call I'd been meaning to for a couple of months, and headed out to see what was going on.

It's never a good sign when you see, at the other end of your hall, a steady stream of people coming out of the stairwell and heading out the door (I live on the ground floor, hence near the exits).

I made my way up to the lobby, only to find about 50-60 people standing around, not doing much of anything. I thought that was a little odd. I mean, the fire alarm is going, there's a fire truck parked outside, and you're standing in the lobby like it's social hour. GO. OUTSIDE.

I went out the back door, and wandered down the building towards the opposite end away from my place, where I could see flashing red lights off of the buildings across the street. The fire crew was running hoses, heading for the hydrants, which didn't exactly help my optimism. I could see smoke coming from around the corner.

Turns out the apartment in question was on the first floor, on the opposite side and end of the building from me. It didn't seem that serious once I got there, a fair amount of smoke but no obvious flames. An ambulance came, but it wasn't needed, thankfully. I saw firefighters moving around, inside the apartment, but I never saw hoses running inside. Good news there as well. It seemed to be pretty well under control very quickly, nobody injured and no damage to the building. In fact, the firefighters never seemed to be in that much of a hurry, which I took as a good sign.

The story ended up being that the guy living in that apartment had a stove fire while doing some cooking. He was fine, the apartment, it seems, is intact, and we had quite a show going on outside for a little while. All's well that ends well, I guess.

But seriously, fix that damn bell.


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