Friday, October 5, 2012

Pound the Alarm

So if you are wanting to send me flowers (which isn’t a bad idea, I haven’t actually gotten flowers in quite a while) – here’s a shot of the building I work in:

Do you see what’s parked out front, dearest reader?  (Besides the giant black truck.)  Yes, that’s a Spokane Valley Fire Department apparatus.  That’s right, kiddies, it’s time for a …. FIRE DRILL!!

The word went out weeks ago.  “Fire Drill at 9:00 a.m.  Here’s your evacuation plan.  Proceed to your check point and wait until given the all-clear.”  I devoted hours of my day to memorizing the layout – tracing the arrows marking the route to freedom with my finger – imagining the chaos that I, alone, could control.  Others were caught up with “working”, wasting those precious hours between 8:30 and 5:30.  Pshah.  I am Kat – your only hope.

I went to my supervisor.  “Do not worry.  I am a Community Emergency Response Team trainee.  I will make sure that this office is evacuated in an orderly fashion with few or no casualties.”

Her response was seeping with her overwhelming relief at the revelation of my skill set - “Uh, ok.”

Then the magical morning finally arrived.  The sun was still low in the sky on this early autumn day, a sky which was hazed over by the smoke from ACTUAL fires (this is eastern Washington, folks).  It lent an ethereal quality to the scene, settling about the fire truck and the half-dozen or so firefighters who stood around it.  They were tense with excitement and anticipation, but expertly masked it with a long-practiced expression of boredom.  This was, of course, intentionally done to keep us calm.

I’m in my cubicle, staring at the clock…8:58, 8:58 and 30 seconds, 8:59, 8:59 and 30 seconds….ready to pounce.  My lioness instincts, finely honed during my months of fire training and firefighter fantasizing, strain my patience. 

Then the alarm lights start to flash – and a blaring siren sounds.  I am on my feet in a flash.  My coworkers, in their untrained ignorance, fail to realize the gravity of the situation as they lock desks, log out of computers, reach for handbags.

(I must admit, it did momentarily occur to me to grab my $250 purse.  But then I realized that the building was on fire and I would need both hands free to tend to the wounded.  So I left it in my desk.)

After wasting precious seconds gathering their stuff, my cohorts shuffled toward the exits, intoxicated by the green illumination which beckoned them to their safety.  I stood in the closest doorway, directing, reassuring, Katting.  A few of the more chivalrous held the door for me and offered to let me through.  Of course, as captain of the ship, I must be the last to leave.  With a shrug, they move on.  Poor, untrained souls.

Once outside and at the designated rendezvous point, all heads present and accounted for, no spurting blood injuries, I felt I could finally let my guard down a little and step out of my zone.  I recognized the Fire Marshal from my Spokane Valley Open House trip, but since he was involved in a discussion with the building administrator, I kept my distance.  Our eyes met briefly, I gave him a “thumbs up.”  He nodded in return, as one professional hero to another, an unspoken, unseen vibration which can only be detected by the most valiant passing between us.  Good work, Kat.

Back at my desk 20 minutes later, I stood in my cubicle and surveyed my territory.  My charges had all returned to their jobs, innocent heads bent over a series of worn keyboards.  I wonder how many of them realize how close they had just come to a simulated fiery death.  But such is the burden of the first responder.  We carry the weight of the rescue, the thrill of the charge – and after; alone, ungratified, we ponder the universe.

Such is the burden of the fire drill.

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