More Fire Alarm Fun

closePlease note: This post was published over a year ago, so please be aware that its content may not be quite so accurate anymore. Also, the format of the site has changed since it was published, so please excuse any formatting issues.

What the fuck is wrong with people?

I mean, seriously. How many fire drills did you do when you were in school? A million? Two million? =EVERYONE= knows that when a fire alarm goes off, you’re supposed to get out of the building and stand back. Well back. But, as you may recall from my previous fire alarm story, unless directed by someone authoritative, few people actually do what they’re supposed to.

A couple of nights ago, the fire alarms in our block of flats went off. Morah and I, having been trained in fire alarm procedure for the past two decades, quickly grabbed some coats (hey, it was snowing) and went out to the curb. No one else was out there, so we figured we were just the first ones. No fire trucks came roaring up (which was just as well, because there ended up not being a fire, but we didn’t know this at the time), no other residents came out to join us and no one authoritative came out to organise the residents and ensure our safe exit from the building.

In other words, no one else seemed to care.

We heard voices and I saw a few people exiting out toward the other side of the building where the parking lot is (and where, if the complex really did catch on fire, they would have had a hard time getting out safely. Were Morah and I =really= the only people who thought to go out to the road?) Then I thought I heard someone calling for help (I’ll tell you the full story in just a moment). We figured out who was calling for help and got her sorted out (just a confused little old lady who didn’t actually need help). Then I found out where everyone else was. Just milling around right next to the building in the (potentially) deadly aforementioned parking area. Then the building manager came out, shrugged and shut off the alarm. She didn’t tell anyone whether or not is was safe to go back into the building, but everyone returned to their flats anyway and the night’s excitement was over.

I was surprised to see so few people outside. Were they just waiting for someone to pound on their door and tell them to get out (which probably wouldn’t have happened)? Were they waiting until they saw the fire or smelled smoke? What the hell were they thinking? When fire alarms go off, get the fuck out! It’s a command, not just a polite suggestion.

I was also surprised that (A) it took the manager so damn long to get outside and (B) that once outside, she didn’t seem to have any sort of plan to help get the residents to safety.

Again, what the hell is wrong with people?

Now, for the woman yelling help story. I am appalled at not only other people’s actions in this case, but also ashamed of my own. Ever since this happened (Monday night), I keep thinking about how I didn’t react the right way. I keep playing the scenario over in my mind, trying to figure out what I should have done versus what I did do. Here’s what happened:

Morah and I were standing on the curb (alone) and the alarm was going full blast. I thought I heard someone calling for help, but I wasn’t sure if they said, “help” or something else. I mentioned it to Morah and we both stopped talking to listen. The woman called out again. Neither of us was sure what she was saying, so we walked in the direction of her voice to see if she really did need help. We got to the next stairwell and waited. “Help!” We still couldn’t tell for sure, but we saw a girl about our age walking around near the old woman, so I assumed the woman was calling her name (it sort of sounded like she was saying “Gail”, or something similar). When the young girl walked away (yes, she walked =right past= an old woman who was frantically asking for help and completely ignored her. Fucking bitch, huh?), the old woman turned toward us and shouted, very clearly, “Help!” So Morah and I walked over to her and asked her what was the matter. She said the her alarm was going off, but she didn’t know why and she couldn’t smell smoke. We told her that it wasn’t just her alarm, but that all the alarms in the entire building were going off. She seemed to relax a bit when she heard this. I set out to find out what was going on and Morah came with me. I assume the old woman went back to bed (she had been asleep when the alarm went off and was in her pajamas when we talked to her). We walked toward the parking lot and that’s when we saw the (few) other people and the manager.

Here’s what I regret: I regret not immediately trying to find the person calling for help, regardless of what I thought they were saying. From now on, I’m not going to wait until I know for sure that they’re calling for help; I’m going to run to help anyone who I even suspect may be calling for help. That bothers me more than anything else. Why didn’t I react sooner? Someone may have been dying! Why didn’t I do something as soon as I suspected that someone needed help? I was so lackadaisical about the whole situation and it kills me to think that the old woman, her husband, or someone else could have died as a result of my inaction. The second thing I regret is not hurrying up to the woman once I did knew that she needed help. Morah and I literally walked over to her. I should have ran. I wish I would have hurried and I feel terrible for not being quicker about everything. Seconds can matter and it took us at least two minutes from the time I first heard the woman call out. I also regret not being more authoritative about the whole thing. Granted, we didn’t know what was going on, but I should have explained it to the woman faster and clearer than I did and I should have told her to prepare some warm clothes just in case she did have to leave. If there really was a fire, she would not have been prepared to evacuate the building and I just left her in her flat thinking it was nothing (which it was, but I certainly didn’t know it at the time). I also regret leaving her there without someone to help her. As much as I wouldn’t want to abandon Morah or put her in danger, I should have told Morah to stay with her until we knew whether to stay or to leave the building. Finally, I regret not approaching the manager to ask what the situation was and to see if there was anything I could do to help. When I get into authority mode, I can bark out orders and get tough with people and believe me, they listen (after all, people want to be told what to do).

Am I a terrible person? Probably not, but I am sincerely disappointed in myself. I wish I could go back and do it over again. I do feel a little better knowing that I recognize that I didn’t react correctly and that I now know what to do in the future.

Some of you may think that my last regret (about helping the manager) is a bit out of the scope of what the average citizen should do. I disagree on two counts. First, I disagree because I was in ROTC (only for one year, but hey) and I was a Boy Scout (again, only for a year, but I was in Cub Scouts for few years before that). Those two experiences taught me to take a leadership position, especially in situations like what happened on Monday night. It’s just something that a person in my place should have done. The other reason I disagree is because I believe everyone needs to pull together in an emergency situation regardless of who you are or how much you hate your neighbors. If I lived next door to someone who I thought was a terrible, mean person, I would still try to save their ass in a fire. You know those scenes in movies where the good guy saves the bad guy’s life and he’s all confused as to why? That’s why. It’s the common, decent, human thing to do. I guess movies aren’t so far-fetched after all.

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Oh, and I have some sad news. It has started warming up here in Spokane, so the little snowman in the APLO picture for this week is no more. Last night one of his arms had sagged and this morning I found him slumped over. His name was Oats and he was the first snowman that Morah and I ever built together.

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