Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire

Everything is fine.

Yesterday about noon a fire alarm went off. We’ve had a couple of drills, and we’re due for a Mass Casualty drill soon. But the voice said, “there is a fire in the Elevated Station, Level 1, A Wing” and nothing said “this is a drill”.

There are four organized Incident Response teams:

  • First Responder
  • Fire Suppression, Search, and Rescue
  • Logistics Support
  • Medical

I’m on the First Responder team. I love this stuff. I was on the Emergency Response Team at Google, I’m on the Community ERT in Palo Alto. I think at least part is that I want to know what’s going on when there’s an emergency, and another part is that I want to be of use. Over the winter everyone is on some team, but in the summer a lot of people are not. I’m happy that I’m on a team. I’m equally happy I’m not on Fire team, I might add, since they have to suit up in fire gear and respirators when the alarm goes off, and in theory can’t have beards.

The big board! When an alarm sounds, first responders are to make their way to one of these and radio in which lights are on.

The big board! When an alarm sounds, first responders are to make their way to one of these and radio in which lights are on.

The alarm went off, and just as I had rehearsed, I forgot to grab an extinguisher on my way to the scene. Maybe next time I will have learned. Also, not a dreadful error since there are a lot of fire extinguishers — almost one per person. I still haven’t learned how to find my way to the annunciator panel when I need to, and when I did I didn’t see anything lit up. But somehow I missed that a smoke detector was signaling. The information got out anyway.

Nobody saw or smelled any smoke, and so Team 1 went to its second role, setting a perimeter, so that nobody went through the scene or tried to get in who shouldn’t. That means nobody but suited-up Team 2. Unable to raise the Team 1 lead, I briefly assumed Team 1 command, even. We set up the perimeter and that was about it. The Team 1 Commander showed, and I passed to him.

Of course, there were bucketfuls of other stuff going on. One of the odd things about the Incident Command System is that us folks who are eyes and ears don’t always know much else at the higher levels. Just as well. Team 2 had assembled and headed into the Pod where the alert sounded, looking for the fire if any. Nobody smelled or saw any smoke, but there’s a subfloor, and a hung ceiling, so care is important.

I was with the Team 1 Lead, to act as a runner if needed. He sent me to check and sweep the 2nd floor, particularly A-4 berthing, the floor above the so-called “smoke”. I had the joy of waking up the day sleepers and saying, “this isn’t a drill”. I’m not sure how well the annunciator carries in the berths; some announcements are designed not to. For example I think emergencies outside the Elevated Station aren’t cried out in the berths in the station.

But it’s scary how many people can hear “fire” and “proceed to the gymnasium” and just stay at their desks. If people aren’t there for the head count, other people have to go find them to make sure they aren’t downed by the smoke — which there still wasn’t — and that can put those searchers at risk. I seem to have enough Voice of Authority to rouse people, though, and cleared the second floor.

Right about then we got the “stand down” order. Eventually the fire tech said it was a dusty detector.


2 responses to “Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire

  1. I don’t know you but got this link from a friend of yours. Just wanted you to know how much I enjoy reading your reports. The next best thing to being there. Happy holidays!

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