Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

An Alarming Situation

Consider this: You are in a large department store, about 8:00 in the morning before you head into work. While meandering in the back of the store seeking a small Christmas tree for your office (don't ask) the fire alarm in the store begins to ring. Employees look at each other in mild alarm and some confusion, and while they don't talk to you they begin talking to each other: "Should we leave?" they say, and "I don't know" they say, while another says "false alarm" and laughs, even though the alarm is still ringing. What do you do?

Well, if you are me, like this morning in a department store downtown, you walk to the exit closest to you and leave, while the employees are still milling about and other shoppers are still ambling their carts down the aisles in hot pursuit of jars of pickles or dog treats or whatever other little treasure they have their hearts set on. And here's what I don't get: when did we begin assuming all fire alarms are false, and how long until that gamble proves to be a poor one?

Look folks, we need to have a serious safety moment here. This morning I sort of ranted on Twitter about "sheeple" who don't seem to think for themselves, but this isn't funny in the slightest. When a fire alarm goes off YOU LEAVE THE BUILDING. I don't care if it is probably a false alarm, I don't care if you have to leave a full cart of groceries, and I don't care if it's inconvenient. It's significantly more inconvenient to get trapped in a burning building with dozens of other panicking people who didn't want to leave their carts either, so do the smart thing - and walk out.

This morning I walked out the front door while people were still walking in, despite the alarms ringing. The confusion of the employees and the customers didn't bother me or deter me slightly. I determined that in my own instinct for self-preservation I would leave and return later once the alarm had been conclusively determined to be false (which is exactly what I did). I don't know how others arrived at their decision to remain in the building, or even enter it while the alarm was ringing, but I do know that I am never going to be one of those people who ignored the fire alarm on the day it was a real fire.

One night just over a year ago the Intrepid Junior Blogger and I were watching a documentary on 9/11. We talked about that dark day, and how so many died. She was only two when it happened, so she doesn't remember when the towers fell, and when the stories of survival - and death - began to emerge. And so I told her how some people who wanted to leave the buildings after the planes had crashed into them had been convinced to stay inside instead of heading down the flights of stairs that took them to safety. We had a very frank talk about making your own decisions in that situation, because the responsibility for preserving your life falls to you and you alone on days like that. We all know what happened to the people who remained in those buildings even when their instinct told them to leave.

This morning when the fire alarm went off I looked around me in amazement as employees and customers milled about, waiting for the fire alarm to be quieted, but not exiting the building. I walked right past them, into the cold morning air, and into my car as the alarm continued to ring. False alarm? Perhaps, although maybe more of a wake-up alarm about our own complacency and inability to believe that fires can destroy department stores and buildings can fall down after planes hit them. We have become so immune to alarms that we ignore them, and assume they are false. We have become so comfortable that we put our own lives at risk (and in some cases in that store today our children at risk, as some who remained inside had children with them), and we just assume nothing bad will happen.

It's a faulty assumption, folks. I'd rather be alive and have fallen prey to a false alarm than be dead or in the middle of a fire situation. This morning was just the alarm I needed to be reminded of it.

1 comment:

  1. Well said. I recall about 10 years ago being in a class when the fire alarm started ringing shortly into the start of the day. Usually in the case of an alarm the principal would give the staff a heads up on it but since I had done so many fire alarms up to that point in my career I just naturally kicked into my "get all your students out now" mode. Turned out that the school was actually on fire which resulted in significant damage to the school and a closure of a good couple weeks. The stress of helping to get 400-500 elementary school kids out of a burning building in the middle of February isn't something I'd wish on anyone. Fortunately, every person in the building got out ok and the only damage was to the school itself. Unfortunately, complacency kills. No one got hurt that day because there was a plan in place and we followed it without question. To this day, I'd rather look a fool standing in wintry weather than risk my life when an alarm starts sounding.