Thursday, June 23, 2011

What would you do?

At our local national chainstore, they've been doing quite a bit of remodeling lately. Not too long ago I was in line at the cashier and an alarm went off--really screechy, accompanied by flashing lights up in the ceiling. I was second or third in line, and briefly wondered if I should just abandon my cart and run like crazy out of the door. It had all the classic signs of being a fire alarm system going off.

Everyone, including the cashier, acted like nothing was happening. So I stayed in line.

Yeah, but not exactly being the shy type when it comes to asking questions, when I did get the chance to get my purchases rung up, I asked the cashier what that alarm had been, because if memory serves, it had finished going off by then. She basically said that they had been having problems with the system, but if it had been the real thing (i.e., there actually had been a fire) someone would have come over the intercom and said so.

Interesting. Interesting, too, that when I went to pull my car out of my parking space a couple of minutes later, I had to wait as two massive fire engines went by in front of me...

In a conversation that I had with someone soon after, the person pointed out that the logic that the cashier used was backward--that it would make more sense if, after the fire alarm started going off, that it was the policy to come on the intercom only to announce that it was only a test, if that was what it was. If there were a fire, there would be a good chance that the intercom wouldn't work at all. This person said they would have left the cart where it was and exited the building.

What would you have done in this situation?

I never heard of any fire and/or fire damage associated with the alarm going off that evening. There have been a couple of times that an alarm has gone off while I've been in that store since then, and one was because someone leaned against a secured exit or something, and that time there were no lights flashing as the sound went off. It's something that has made me think twice about shopping there, because if it goes off that many times when I have actually been there, how many times does it go off?

Fires are tricky, and can spread quickly. I have heard about a casino fire in the 1980's where people died because, as I understand it, they were sitting in the casino, and the fire spread so fast through the ceiling that it just collapsed. The person that was talking about that fire said they weren't even sure if the alarm had gone off in that situation. Sometimes, there is no warning. But if there is a warning, there is no telling how fast the flames are going through the building, and that's why acting quickly to get out of harm's way (even if it is not immediately evident) is crucial. It seems like it would be best to have decided before you ever get into such a situation what you are going to do if that situation arises.

Yeah, standing around acting like there was nothing wrong was not the best choice in the situation outlined above, but it was made all the easier by the fact that no one else seemed worried about it. But just because you aren't worried about it doesn't mean nothing will happen---in fact, it seems to be human nature for everyone to think that nothing like a store fire will ever happen to them....

So, would love to hear any responses, but hope that at least everyone will take the time to figure out so they know for their own personal benefit what they would do if a fire alarm went off while they were shopping. The emergency would be a lot less devastating in this instance if people knew what to do to avoid being caught in a store/hotel/building that is not home fire. What would you do?


Eleanor said...

I would have pushed my cart to the side (so it would be out of the way of other people checking out) and gone outside. After the fire men gave the OK, I would have gone back in to see if my cart was still there.
I agree with you about their attitude. It is rediculous to ignore such a thing. The store would be smart to increase the volume of the alarm. Then it would be too painful for people to remain inside. That's the way it is in the building in which I work. The fire alarm goes off rather frequently there, and I go down the 5 flights of stairs every time, even though it kills my knees. No way am I dying over something so stupid and preventable!

Marie said...

Eleanor--It's interesting that the alarm was annoyingly loud, and still no response, really, that I noticed, but as you say, if it were painful, that would probably make a difference. I couldn't say it better than you did about this case being preventable, and it would be unwise (to say the least) to be injured or worse in spite of a blatant warning. Thanks so much for your comment!

HermitJim said...

I'm thinking that if I hear an alarm, I'm going outside! If it happens very often in the same store...I would find another place to shop!

Seems like the least the cashier could have done, is to tell folks that there was nothing to worry about!

Just my 2 cents!

Marie said...

HermitJim--I actually have considered just going elsewhere--mostly because of the alarms, and just a litttle bit because of the total inconvenience of the remodel. Put them both together and it really would be more convenient and feel a lot safer to shop somewhere else. You're right about the cashier, because it seems like she would speak up without being asked when the alarm went off, at least to the customers in her line if she were sure there wasn't a problem. She surely didn't act worried about it...thanks so much for your comment!