The fire alarm goes off…


Remember the tale of the boy who cried wolf?

Quick recap: Shepherd boy who thinks it will be funny to yell out “WOLF” at the top of his lungs to see what kind of reaction he can get from the villagers. As he hoped, drug they come running to defend the sheep. When they find there isn’t a wolf, they reprimand the boy and go back to the village. A second time, they boy cries “WOLF” and the villagers come running. And again, the boy is chastised and the villagers return home. Later, a real wolf is stalking the sheep, and urgently the boy screams “Wolf! Wolf!” but nobody comes running. The story ends with an old man telling the shepherd boy, “Nobody believes a liar, even when he is telling the truth.”

How many fire evacuation drills have I been through in my life? They started in elementary school and continued throughout my educational years. Even in college I was in buildings that were evacuated due to non-emergencies. Every time, it has been like the boy crying “Wolf” just to get a reaction from the villagers.

I’ve stopped responding. Two years ago at my office building there was another fire drill. In that company, we had a specific meeting point across the street where we checked in with our manger, who followed specific safety guidelines from the corporate emergency response book. I thought it kind of ridiculous that grown adults still needed to go through fire drills like we were all still in kindergarten or something.

Thus, when “Wolf” was cried yesterday at work, I wasn’t too concerned. I didn’t realize that a wolf was prowling at the edge of the herd of sheep. I was in the break room when the alarm went off. On my way back to my workstation, I saw my supervisor and asked where we were supposed to meet in an emergency. His (not-so-helpful) answer was “outside.” Back at my desk, I casually synced my iPod, logged off my computer, unplugged it, packed it in my work bag, retrieved my mobile phone from the charger, turned off my light, and grabbed a Diet Coke and an orange from the fridge. THEN I joined the crowds of people still evacuating the building in the stair well.

We were behind a woman who was having difficulty descending the four flights of stairs. Well, she was doing okay, she was just slow. Some guy about a half flight of stairs above us made the comment, “A lot more people were killed in the World Trade Center in the stair wells than in the elevator.” (An interesting observation, to be sure, but it also fits into the ‘not-so-helpful’ category of things said yesterday.)

Finally we got outside where I saw a couple of my co-workers. From our exit, we couldn’t see anything that would have prompted an evacuation of the building. One of my colleagues suggested walking around the building, to the north side, to get out of the sun. I followed him around the corner, where we could see a firetruck about a block ahead. Curious, we continued walking to see what was going on.

At the intersection, we saw one of the fire fighters preventing somebody from going into the parking garage, saying there had been a massive gas leak a half a block east of where we were now standing. The fire department was closing the area, and everybody needed to move one block north or south of the leak location. (We, unwittingly had been walking in the wrong direction.)

We continued walking to the north end of the Gateway, and turned east. As we got to the next corner, we could smell the gas. It was terrible! I crossed the street heading east and walked into the TRAX station. I wasn’t too keen on getting on an electric-powered train near a gas leak, so decide to keep walking to a later TRAX station.  As I walked parallel to the street with the leak, I could smell the gas from over a block and a half away, and the stench was overpowering. As I got back to street my office building is on, I looked west and could see that the workers in my building were still not being allowed back into the building. So I just walked to Gallivan Plaza, where I boarded a train for home.

As I waited for the train, I powered up my laptop and read the breaking news stories on the gas leak. Turns out the situation was a lot more dangerous than I realized, and I probably shouldn’t have been so casual about my response to the fire alarm.

Its just hard, because nobody believes a liar, even when they are telling the truth.

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