American fire drill

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I'd been smelling the smoke for a while and wondered vaguely what was burning. So had everyone else. We even talked about it, but no one knew what it was.

This was yesterday afternoon at the office. I'd been trying to catch up on some overdue LiveJournal comments, and I was exchanging a flurry of email with Eleanor as we tried to work out a place to meet for drinks that evening. Then my coworker Monjay poked her head around my cubicle wall and said, in her soft, unflappable voice, "There's a small fire on the first floor, and the other half of the floor is all evacuated."

I wasn't sure what to do with this information, and I'm not sure many of us were. We heard no fire alarm. Surely there was no danger.

Then my friend Geoff, our lead Muppet illustrator and creator of the wonderful caricature on the front page of Inhuman Swill, strolled by and drily said, "Hey, there's a fire in the building. I'm thinking we should all get outside."

So I gathered up all my stuff, which you're not supposed to do in a situation like this—Monjay helpfully pointed out that I had left my jacket behind ("It's a nice one, too"), so I went back to get it, pausing again to send Ellie a quick email telling her about the fire—and I headed out to the lobby. When I got there, I was alone, but I now could hear the fire alarm ringing on the other half of the floor.

As I looked through the glass doors out to the elevator lobby, trying to find the emergency stairs, I spotted the door I wanted—because a fireman armed with a flashlight had just emerged therefrom. I hastened myself over to the door and slipped through, joining a crowd of women from the upper floors who were streaming down the fire stairs to street level.

I found many of my coworkers outside, including Geoff who said proudly, "I did my part. I got all my people out." The thing was, it turned out there were other coworkers of mine who never left the building at all.

I walked down the street and called Ellie from my cell phone, and we arranged to have drinks earlier than I'd thought I'd be able to. Then I slipped off to the subway. I'm no fool.

I learned this morning that the fire was in a restaurant on the ground floor of our building, and that it never posed much danger. That's as may be—I'm still disturbed that I never heard a fire alarm, and that the evacuation plan we've all been drilled on seemed to go right out the window. (I heard there was one man from the executive offices—one man—wandering through all the Sesame Workshop floors spreading the word that people should leave.) What ever happened to the floor fire marshalls? Why were the elevators never shut down?

What happens if this happens again, late one night when I'm working alone? Will my family get a visit from a Muppet bearing a folded Sesame Street flag and the sad news?

[ original post:  http://shunn.livejournal.com/2705.html ]

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About This Entry

This page contains a single entry by William Shunn published on October 11, 2000 6:14 PM.

Here comes the firestorm was the previous entry in this blog.

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