Sunday, November 11, 2012

We didn't start the fire...

...No we didn't light it. But we tried to fight it.

Actually I didn't try to fight it. That's just a Billy Joel song.

And those are also the only words I know from that song aside from when I chime in on, "Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television." 

But back to the fire I didn't start or fight.

I was getting all ready to settle in for a rousing Friday evening of butternut squash soup and my Netflix queue  when things took a very surprising turn. In case you do more exciting activities on a Friday night, I should explain that "getting ready" for my evening meant that I would be taking a shower after a training session at the gym (more on that in the future.) and promptly putting on pajamas. This explanation is important to the story because it means I was still in a sweaty gym t-shirt. I tend to procrastinate on everything in life, including post-gym showers. This may be why it's good that I live alone. This may also be why I'm still single.

Nonetheless, I was sitting on the floor in front of the coffee table, starting my delicious bowl of soup and watching an episode of Alias when I heard a strange ringing sound which I only assumed was part of the show. But, even when the show switched scenes, the ringing continued. I thought, "These CIA people are morons, don't they realize they've set off some sort of alarm?" I muted the TV and the muffled ringing sound remained. Hmm...peculiar.

I opened the door to the hallway at which point the muffled ringing became a loud, piercing alarm with accompanying flashing lights. Huh. This isn't usually happening out here.

No one else was in the hall and chances were that it was a false alarm but I didn't want to be the idiot on the top floor who didn't evacuate and had to be rescued by a handsome firefighter (wait a second....)

I couldn't find my jacket so I just grabbed my keys and my phone and headed toward the stairwell. I assumed I'd most likely be going down to the lobby, checking my mail and heading back upstairs.

As I got toward the stairwell door, a few of my other neighbors poked their heads out and were debating leaving. I gave them a shrug and the universal facial expression for "Why not? Better safe than sorry, right?" If you aren't familiar with that expression, its a combination of apathy and "stank face."

The stairwell was filled with my neighbors from other floors, all calmly walking down with minimal sense of urgency. The only difference between them and me was that they all had jackets. A few of them were also carrying wine glasses. My new goal is to be friends with those people.

We made it down two flights of stairs when the alarm shut off. A woman poked her head out into the stairwell and said, "You guys can go back. They wouldn't have turned it off if there was a fire." To which someone well in front of me yelled back, "No. The 10th floor is completely full of smoke. There IS a fire."

Uh, hey boy scout, why were you keeping this information secret from your fellow stair descenders?

That's when we started to smell it. Yeah, maybe evacuating was the right call.  I'm proud to say that, even with this new knowledge of fire (which apparently the 10th floor folks were initially keeping to themselves) my neighbors and I all calmly continued on, patiently assisting the elderly tenants who were having some trouble. Just like they teach you in school - no panicking!

We made it outside at the same time that three fire engines pulled up. And then three more. One of the trucks immediately raised its ladder twelve floors. A fireman, in full gear, carrying a chainsaw started his ascent to the roof.

I've always thought firemen/firewomen are amazing, but I have a whole new respect for the amount of bravery it takes to show up in a fire engine and immediately run into unknown danger and climb to the top of a twelve story building with a chainsaw. I did a harnessed ropes course once that was 25 feet off the ground and I still thought I was going to plummet to my death.

At this point in the evening, despite my best efforts to be tough, I was visibly shivering from being cold. However, I wasn't about to complain about being chilly while men were climbing tiny ladders to the roof. Fortunately, a girl I didn't know was carrying an extra jacket and offered it to me. I, of course, declined. But my teeth chattered as I did, so she insisted. At that moment, she became my most favorite person, second only to the fireman with the chainsaw. I put on her teeny, tiny, extra-small-sized puffy jacket (God bless her for assuming that would fit me) and - looking like a giant marshmallow - stood alongside my neighbors, wondering what was going on in our building.

We then saw flashlights bouncing around inside a dark apartment, followed immediately by the sound of breaking glass. The firemen were banging out windows and, as glass and screens fell 10 stories, smoke started pouring out. We could see the huge spray of water drenching the apartment as more firemen went inside.
Although it looks like the top floor is on fire, the source is actually the dark window underneath the middle bright one. My flash made everything look like flames. 
I called my sister and Pete to tell them what was happening and see if I could crash at their house. Even if the fire was done, I doubted that I would be able to sleep well. Melissa offered before I could even ask. And Pete, being the resourceful fellow that he is, started listening to the police/fire/ems scanner. There's an app for that. (No really, there is.) Thanks to Pete, I had real-time updates of what was going on and could tell my neighbors, "The fire's out. Now they are just trying to control all the smoke."

Pete also downloaded and sent me the scanner recordings but I couldn't figure out how to edit it down in length and post it. You probably wouldn't understand it anyways unless you speak "fireman."

After about 45 minutes, it appeared everything was under control and we were allowed back in the building (OR WERE WE? Dun, dun, be continued).

My neighbors and I started back inside as the firemen were coming out, covered in soot and wrapping up the hoses. The lobby was flooded due to the fire hose and we were also informed that the main stairwell was flooded so we couldn't use it.

The main stairwell? There's more than one stairwell?! See, even in an emergency, you can learn something new.

The stairwell smelled like smoke for several floors but I was pleased that when I entered my apartment, it mostly still just smelled of butternut squash soup and nutmeg. I was going to grab a few things for the night before heading out to my sister's. That's when Melissa and Pete heard over the scanner that I was not supposed to be inside. (Hence the aforementioned dun, dun, duuuun.) Turns out I would've been fine but I didn't know that at the time and who am I to argue with the fire department scanner?

I probably should have said this earlier but everyone got out safely and was fine. That's why I can make light of a potentially disastrous situation. Aside from a flooded lobby and a few boarded up apartments, things are back to normal. Rumor has it that the fire was started by a match that was accidentally dropped near a bunch of newspapers. Thanks to the amazingly swift response by DCFD, the damage was contained to a block of apartments, mainly on the 10th floor. Although, my heart goes out to those tenants. Additional shout outs must be given to the police department and EMS who shut down the street and stood by, at the ready.

Lastly, in case you are wondering, I did end up taking that shower...the next afternoon. Don't you judge me. My house was on fire.


  1. Dude. That's completely crazy and scary and utterly nuts. I'm glad everyone got out safely. Holy crap. Is your apartment okay?

  2. Yes, my apartment is completely fine and, fortunately, there is no smoke damage on my floor.