Thursday, May 6, 2010

Simply Alarming

I remember one day in high school, walking through the halls, I caught part of a conversation between two boys. I don't remember who they were, but after the subsequent incident, I put their words into the proper context. The two boys were discussing pulling the fire alarm as a prank and a few minutes into the next class, the alarm went off. As was our practiced routine, every student and teacher trooped outside and waited until the all clear was given.

I don't know how many fire alarm drills we went through during my school years. Every time, we all knew it was coming; we all knew it was a drill and although most of rolled our eyes at yet another drill, we were cool with anything interrupting class.

However, during the prank, I recall everyone being very orderly with no one panicking. I'm glad there was never a real thing but I would hope, if there had been, things would have been okay because of all those drills we endured.

I take an infrequent break from blogging about writing to discuss alarms. Alarms mean something, even when the problem turns out to be a non emergency. We've all had the smoke alarm in our house beep when we've burnt the toast or, as in my case, too much steam from boiling water or meat smoking in the oven. It always scares me when I first hear it, but usually, I know what the problem is.

A couple of years ago I was trapped in Walmart after they had a Code Black, which is a tornado warning. They directed everyone to the center of the store. Patrons could leave, but they couldn't check out at the cash register. I joked that the reason we all gathered in one spot was not for safety but so that all our bodies would be in one place to find. Yeah, stupid joke, but it relieved some of the tension. But, the point is, Walmart has a policy and it works. Luckily, the tornado went south of us, but for 45 minutes we waited and wondered.

A little over a week ago, I'm trying to finish up night audit at the motel when the fire alarm starts blaring. Scared the crap out of me because I had never before heard it. I've had the power go out which is always annoying, but never the fire alarm. Immediately, the three fire doors lost their magnetic hold and closed. I managed to get the alarm shut off before going deaf. I called 911; the police came out, then the fire department. We tromped all over and all around the motel and didn't find a thing wrong. We put it down to a glitch in the system our manager needs to look into.

What I found interesting, was that out of the 25 rooms we had sold that evening, only about six guests poked their noses out of the door wondering about the alarm. Only one man actually walked outside with no inducement. As I said, nothing was wrong and I assured everyone it was only a glitch (since the alarm went off again about three hours later). But I was distressed that only six guests even bothered to open their doors. The rest ignored the alarm. I've had more people come down and wonder about the bad weather sirens in town than respond to a fire alarm loud enough to drown out jet engines.

Even more amazing were two guests who came down to breakfast the next morning and discussed the fire alarm. Both had decided to ignore it, even though one related a story of how he ignored a previous alarm in a Minneapolis motel while the real fire blazed in the room above his.

Please, please, please, do not ignore alarms. Yes, usually there will be no problem but you never know. I ran all over the motel trying to track down smoke or flames and ready to beat on the room doors to get everyone out if necessary. I worry about my cigarette smoking neighbors and whether one morning, I'll come back to a pile of ashes that was my apartment building.

While living in my previous apartment, I hated when they conducted the monthly test on the weather sirens (mainly because the damn thing was forty yards out my back window and they always tested it at 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning when I was trying to sleep). But I'm glad they did because when bad weather struck, it kept everyone informed.

Take the time to check out the problem, inquire as to why an alarm is sounding. Weather, fire, smoke, even a simple car alarm. Something is wrong, either a glitch in the system or a real emergency. Make sure you can laugh and joke about the former and not suffer the latter.

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