Of Fires and Alarms

For 12 years, I lived in a five-storey building with four units per floor. It had a hardware store, a pharmacy, a gaming shop and a bakery on the ground floor and residential units on the upper floors. It did not have any type of security save for the locked glass double-door that served as the main entrance to the building, and a couple of CCTV cameras positioned near this door and in the lobby. It had fire extinguisher and fire hose, but we were to use our noses as fire detector and our mouths as fire alarms.

Fire hose cabinet

Fire hose cabinet

It was early 2015, a little past midnight when I heard an explosion. It was nothing earth-shattering, so I thought it was from the movie I was watching or from a gun shot somewhere far. I stood up to check that the locks were in place, in case it was a gun shot. When I did, I heard shouting from below. Through the large glass window that faces the street, I saw a dozen people shouting, “Sunog! Sunog!” (Fire!). I stupidly shouted back, “Sa amin?” (Is our place on fire?), and they replied, “Oo! Labas na!” (Yes! Get out!). I did not leave right away; I changed into something decent, gathered my wallet, laptop, phones and their chargers. When I was about to open the door, someone was banging on it while shouting. I opened it, and a couple of guys pulled me out by the arms, and said, “Bilis! Bilis!” (Hurry!). I asked them to go out first so I could lock the door.

I lived on the second floor, but when I made my way to the lobby, it was filled with smoke although there was no noticeable fire. Even with the time I spent in my unit, I was the first tenant outside the building. It took the others 15-20 minutes to wake up, gather their wits and climb down the stairs. By that time, the early birds already knew that someone left a fake phone charger overnight in a socket in the lobby and it exploded. The good-hearted passersby saw the flame, broke the door and used their shirts to put it out. Then, they knocked on every door while the others shouted from below.

When we were sure that the fire was fully extinguished, we thanked the good Samaritans and returned to our units. The only problem was, I forgot my keys inside. So, I had no choice but to wait for my brother to arrive. It was a Friday night or Saturday early morning, and I spent two hours on a wooden chair outside my unit. That taught me to take my keys with me in case of emergency.

Fast forward to third quarter of 2015, I now lived in a 41-storey building with all the measures to ensure that its tenants escape fire unscathed. It was 11am when the fire alarms went off like crazy. When it continued for more than what I was comfortable with, maybe around 20 seconds, I went outside the unit to check if there was smoke, but there was none. I asked my neighbors if they burned their food, or if they were cooking with too much smoke. But they all shook their heads, no (In the event that I cause a fire, I would not admit it, so I took their words with five grains of salt. And yes, I just accused them of something bad). I was already dressed to go out, so I placed my wallet, phones and laptops in one bag, and I did not forget to secure my keys. I had rubber slippers on which would have made climbing down 19 flights of stairs arduous, especially with a bag on each shoulder. There was still no fire, so I took the elevator to the ground floor. The time I waited and rode the elevator might have been a minute or two, but it seemed forever. In the elevator, the tenants from the upper floors, an old woman and her assistant and a family of three, were shaking with fear and were as clueless as I was for the cause of the alarm. A young girl, also from 19th floor, was crying because she had no one but a househelp. Trying to make my voice even, I had to tell not to cry because everything would be okay, but my hands were shaking. The elevator could not move faster enough.

There are two fire exits on every floor and there are signages point to them.

There are two fire exits on every floor and there are signages point to them.

When we arrived on the ground floor, soothing music filled the lobby and the receptionists and guards were calm. I was like, WTF? I asked the guard if there was a fire, and he apologized and said that they changed the setting of the fire detectors and it made the alarms go off throughout the building. I wanted to strangle someone, but I was too relieved that we were all safe. As we joined the people waiting to go back to their units, more people arrived from their units, some with hurriedly packed plastic bags, some still in their pajamas. Some of the guards accompanied us in the ride up so they could inform the remaining tenants that there was no cause to worry. That taught me to wear sturdy shoes and not to take the elevator. 🙂

The Evacuation Plan clearly states not to use elevators in case of fire or earthquake. This plan is found near the elevators on every floor of the building.

The Evacuation Plan clearly states not to use elevators in case of fire or earthquake. This plan is found near the elevators on every floor of the building.

This weekend, I was unceremoniously awaken by the incessant blare of the fire alarm. I dressed up and took a towel with me (I planned to soak it in water in case there really was a fire). The sound was ear-piercing when I opened the door, but there was no smoke and no fire. The hallway was also deserted. Everyone was asleep because it was 3:30 AM. Yes, it was 330 in the morning! I went inside my room and prepare my stuff with my keys, like what I did the previous two occasions. I was about to slip on a pair of rubber shoes but decided against it and checked the hallway again. This time, my neighbors were awake, some clutching their bed sheets, with bird’s nest hair and bleary eyes. We asked each other, “may sunog ba?” (Is there fire?). Then the fire alarm stopped. I just said one word, “nakakaloka!” (Crazy!) closed the door and returned to my bed.

The fire alarm system that works like a well-oiled machine.

The fire alarm system that works like a well-oiled machine.

 

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