Whining, Dining, and Other Unpaid Observations

Always on Alert for Faux Fire

Posted in Notable Events by KP on March 31, 2009

1:38 this morning — FIRE ALARMS!

I wake up in a stupor, grabbing my glasses, phone, and stupidly trying to turn off my screeching, ear-splitting alarm clock. Then I realize — FIRE ALARMS!

Then I remember where I live. And this happens all the time. ALL. THE. TIME.

So I tape up the sound vents (technical term) of the two fire alarms in my apartment–again–to reduce the risk of ear bleeding. And wait. My cat looks at me, confused and furious. My boyfriend pulls a pillow over his head.

No one in my building ever rushes outside immediately, in a full-frenzied panic and weighed down with kids and pets and valuables, when they hear a fire alarm. We might open the front door in a bathrobe, look around annoyed, and close the door. Our fire alarm has cried wolf so many times that if there ever were to be a real emergency…. we’d be in trouble.

But last night was a little different. Not in the sense that there was a real fire. Thank God. But in the sense that the alarm continued for 1 WHOLE HOUR. My boyfriend and I generally take turns going downstairs to stake out information, i.e. if there’s smoke and fire. Last night was my turn.

It always turns out to be a block party during these episodes. After so long, people lazily make their ways down to the courtyards, half-concerned and half-asleep. And as it turns out, I have some really rad neighbors. Who knew. I only meet them during these faux fire shindigs, where we immediately bond over the idiocy of everything and everyone, exchange names and unit numbers, promise to come over to borrow eggs or a cup of sugar, and never see each other again. Even if they live next door. Which makes one or both of us hermits, or it just affirms that I indeed keep very odd hours.

So as I was making new best friends, fire trucks were pulling in rather lackadaisically. Not that I can blame them. Again, there’s never a real fire, only the intensely loud universal sound that indicates one should toss mattresses out of windows, loved ones following, and run screaming into the night, because there is a fire.

Everyone wearing a uniform is walking around determinedly, which is good, but sharing no information, which is bad. It is determined through the grapevine that the source of the fire (alarm) is in unit 463, and of course no one knows where that is. In this fortress of numerically ordered apartments, the location of #463 is a complete mystery. So we see the half-dozen firemen striding, single-file, to various stairwells and discussing in quiet, rapid tones if “maybe it’s up there.” Sigh. There must be a better way.

Meanwhile, that wretched alarm is still piercing through the night air as if the Birdman had escaped from Alcatraz, if this were still 1942. It reminds me of that movie with Robert Redford, where he’s in a military prison run by the Sopranos guy and he has to move stones for like 40 days, shirtless and robbed of physical strength but not spirit. And I just want a confirmation of the non-fire so I don’t have to run upstairs to rescue my cat and boyfriend, Rambo-style; instead, I’d like to just tell them the good news and we can all have hot cocoa together and tell stories and laugh.

We’re told at some point that “maintenance is on its way to take care of this noise.” Excuse me, what? This does not seem to be a good system. First of all, we all seem to agree that this fire alarm thing is just “noise” and no longer a “safeguard against human tragedy.” Great, if great means useless. Second, we have to wake up some poor maintenance guy who lives off-premises to drive over and turn off the alarm? What a crappy responsibility. And obviously inefficient, as again, it screamed for an hour before finally being silenced.

The neighbor who called the fire department had an even scarier story to share. When the fire alarm began blaring, bleeting, and bloking, she immediately left her apartment (oddly enough) and soon ran across a security guard in the hallway. Here is the transcript of their interaction:

Security guard: “We need to call the fire department.”

Neighbor: “You mean you haven’t already called?”

Guard: “It’s not a real fire.”

Neighbor: “How do you know? What if it is?”

Guard: “That’s true. Ok. What’s the number for the fire department?”

OMG. This is all very bad news.

Said neighbor is toting a teenage daughter, and as she is relaying this tidbit of homeland security, the daughter is interrupting every 0.005 seconds with excrutiatingly dumb details of the previous night’s Britney Spears concert. And shoving her camera in everyone’s face. “Look, then the guys picked her up and brought her across to here.” “Look, this is what she was wearing.” “Look, here’s the Pussycat Dolls.” “Look, now she’s over here.” “Look, I swear she almost looked at me.” I honestly felt like screaming, “Um hello? Hi. There is a fake fire going on? So let’s please respect the fake emergency and concentrate on getting no information from anyone, other than alarming tales of security failures. Thanks.”

If all this seems to have put me in a bad mood, it didn’t really. Again, there was no fire, for which I am grateful. Boyfriend, cat, and I escaped unscathed  yet again. But for all my predictable relief, I’m getting fairly tired of imagining The Worst every few months or so. Although it is nice to know where I can pick up a cup of sugar when I need it.

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