Where’s The Fire?

Last Saturday, I was doing a book signing at our local Chapters Indigo store. The weather was lousy, but at least it was just rain, not the freezing rain and snow that had been forecast. I was there for three hours, and I sold quite a few copies, but still three hours is a long time to just stand next to a giant sign featuring a post-apocalyptic Toronto skyline without any distractions. Then suddenly, a fire truck with its lights flashing pulled up outside the store. OOH! And I wasn’t the only person who raced to the window, and I’m also sure I wasn’t the only person who was more interested in seeing the firefighters than actually finding out why they were there. Ultimately, nothing happened—they didn’t even come into the store, much to the dismay of women, men, and small children alike. And it reminded me of the last fire drill we had at work:

I was in the elevator and two guys got on. “Don’t forget about the fire drill tomorrow,” one of them said to the other.

“Oh,” I said. “Is it in the morning or afternoon?”

“Afternoon,” he answered. “Stay close to your coat—it’s supposed to be chilly.”

So that was a great heads-up, except that I almost immediately forgot about it until the next afternoon, when suddenly, the fire alarm went off. Everyone looked around nonchalantly, but then an announcement came over the PA system: “A fire alarm has been activated on Parking Level 2. The fire department has been dispatched. Exit the building immediately.” Then people started to get a little panicky. “Don’t worry,” I said. “I heard two guys talking about a drill yesterday in the elevator. I’m sure the announcement is just a trick or something.” But that didn’t seem to make people feel better, and then everyone started walking quickly towards the exit. Notice that I said “exit” singular, and not “exits” plural. Because, even though my office is in an 18-story building, there’s only ONE way out. Down the stairs. Along with EVERYONE ELSE who works in the building. And after meandering slowly down numerous double flights of stairs in a huge crowd of people I didn’t know, I commented to my co-worker, “This is crazy. If there was a real fire, we’d all be in serious trouble.” She replied, “Why the hell didn’t I change out of these heels?” which was a completely legit question, since our secret agency meeting place was on a side street two city blocks away. I suppose that’s in an attempt to disguise our identities, you know, like we’re just a group of tourists who happened to stop for a chat behind the grocery store. Like, nothing to see here; just move along. Ignore the man carrying the encrypted laptop. But then things got a little worrisome. Not because of the fire—at this point it became very clear that it was, in fact, a drill—but because there was no sign of any firetrucks. A ripple of dissatisfaction ran through the crowd.

“Where are the firefighters? We were promised firefighters!”

“If I had to walk down 15 flights of stairs, there should at least be firefighters!”

“What’s going on? Does anyone hear sirens?”

“This is ridiculous! You can’t just lie about calling the fire department! It’s not fair!”

And this wasn’t just the women. Men like firetrucks too, you know. But after a little while, we were all distracted by a colleague in Human Resources, a very dapper guy who was now wearing not only his suit and tie, but a rather bold, red ballcap with the words, “Fire Marshall” on it. We flocked to him to have our names checked off (to ensure none of us had perished in the fake fire?) and also because he was the closest thing to a firefighter that we had, and then we sadly returned to our building. The elevators were back in service—4 elevators for an eighteen-story building. It took a little while, but we finally squeezed on at the ground floor, cheering and laughing. Then the elevator suddenly stopped at the sixth floor. We were all puzzled until the doors opened:

“Marcel!!” we cheered. There was Marcel, one of our French co-workers, with a huge grin on his face. “I t’ought ze best t’ing would be to go up ze stairs partway. And ‘ere you are!”  With that, we welcomed him aboard and went back to work.

This might seem inconsequential or anti-climactic, but I tell this story to illustrate a point. That, given the state of some parts of the world right now, I am always grateful when the worst DOESN’T happen, when it’s a drill and not a tragedy, when the door opens and it’s a friend on the other side, when I get to spend time with people who see the humour in things, and when “another day at the office” is a good day. Even if there weren’t any firefighters.

Notice the lack of firefighters…

75 thoughts on “Where’s The Fire?

  1. There was a fire drill in a building I used to work in, but I had popped into the toilet which was in the stairwell outside the office. The fire alarm in the office was very loud but no alarm in the stair area nor the toilets themselves. I didn’t hear a thing. I walked back into the office & it was like the Marie Celeste, computers on, half drunk teas and coffees and not a soul around. Very freaky!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Bryntin says:

    I think if I was having to be in a store all day, being left alone in front of the massive display of the Tea and Sweets stock would be about the most perfect place that could happen. Hard to imagine that a seeing firefighter or two could be better than that.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The store looks amazing and I am so glad that you were getting out there and putting your writing out there :-). My oldest son is training to be a fire fighter and I am amazed at the rockstar treatment firefighters generally get :-). Well deserved, to be sure, but wow. I had no idea.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I will never, ever complain to Kevin or in general about our fire drills, EVER. Kevin is our resident firefighter/safety officer and if everyone remember PDs brother too. But 18 floors up, geez. I’m glad I’m on the first floor of a four story building.

    And I’m so happy for your book signing, and they put you right at the perfect spot! Tea and sweets and Suzanne! 😃😎

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I wonder, if anyone was in a wheelchair how would the story have played out? Do buildings register that they have someone in a wheelchair? Would my coworkers have been expected to carry me out? Maybe THAT would have gotten firefighters there?! (Im always looking for ways to be of service)

    Liked by 2 people

  6. At least Ontario seems pretty quake-safe. No “ring of fire there.”

    I like your big poster. I may finish my next novel just so I can get one of those. ‘Course I’ll have to make it myself, Trad-Pub not being something I care to attempt again.

    So, did the whole signing episode make you feel more like an author?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, my publisher didn’t make the sign–Ken had it made at the local Staples. It wasn’t even very expensive, but I think it looks really eye-catching. I’ve done several signings with both books–I never feel more like an author, I just feel super-awkward and can’t wait for them to be over!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I’ve been doing a lot of reading this month, Suzanne, and the closing paragraph of this post might be the most effecting thing I’ve encountered this year to date. It’s an elegant sentiment, and one we can’t be reminded of enough. I myself am preparing a blog post for this coming week on why there’s so much reason to be hopeful about the climate crisis, and I wish I expressed one thing in that post as perfectly as you did here. Brava!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much, Sean–it’s been hard here in Canada lately, with so many Canadians dying in that plane crash, and all the other terrible things going on in the world around us. I wanted to take a minute to appreciate the simple things in our lives that bring joy, and I’m glad you appreciated the sentiment:-)

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Now I’m glad I work in a building with two stairwells, and also glad I no longer work with a coworker in a wheelchair because in an emergency a small group of us had to carry her down the stairs. And we did have a legitimate emergency once.
    Also I’m glad you sold some copies of your book. If you went and sat there without selling any that would have been an emergency too.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, I’ve done signings before where I haven’t sold anything–it’s not much fun! And I don’t think expecting random people to carry someone down several flights of stairs is a very good plan–I hope my building has something better in place!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. So good!!! And I’m so excited that people are snatching up your book!!!

    I think you inspired me to finally write about my “little incident.” Except, there was in fact, a firetruck, accompanied by 6 firemen, and yes, a fire, all in my tiny 600 sq.ft apartment (not the firetruck, to be clear)…the day after I moved in. And yes, we are talking about lucky #13. It’s been a few months but I thought I’d shake things up a bit, give everyone a rest from death and destruction and just strip down naked instead. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Any work day you get to spend time with people who see the humor in things is a good work day. Even if you don’t get the flashing lights you want. Congratulations on your midweek publication too. What a week you’re having!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. So cool to see you out there doing the thing! You look like you’re in your element, like you own the world. That may or may not be how you feel, but as Billy Crystal sang, “it’s not how you feel, it’s how you look, and you look mahvelous!” Saludos!

    (Now stay safe and conquer those 18 stories, one at at time 😉 )

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I once worked at a place where fire drills were not really announced, and fire alarms were completely ignored. One time, the alarms went off–and the sound was so deafening, I had to leave my office and go outside–I was the only one! My colleagues and just about everyone else, actually stayed in the building. Luckily, it was a drill–but I don’t know how they could have stayed and worked. My ears were throbbing from the noise.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I’ve never thought about the fact that we’ve been cheated out of firefighters! I’m on the 12 floor of 22 and yes, shuffling down the stairs makes me wonder how we’d all get out alive. Better than shelter in place drills though – the noise level climbs until I think my head will explode.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. That’s mental about your lack of exits! Thank goodness it was only a drill!
    We had an actual fire engine show up at work once after what we thought was only a drill. Turned out a colleague had burnt her toast, and the firefights were less than hunky. A disappointing day all round.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Congrats on the sales – you look lovely! Reminds me of 1st grade firemen demo where they ran over dolls to show how one should be careful crossing the street. Stayed with me ever since…

    Liked by 1 person

  16. It does sound like a good day at office. No real fire, no stampede like situation in stairs, joking with colleagues, taking a little break from work…..the only possible improvement I can think of is a super-impressive fire fighter walks into the elevator at the 6th floor. Imagine!

    Liked by 1 person

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