Rodney M Bliss

What I Did When The Fire Alarm Went Off

No, it wasn’t amazing, or surprising. In other words the title isn’t meant to be clickbait. (If it came across that way, you can have your click back. . .I’ll send it to you.)


Is that the fire alarm?

It appears to be.

What are you planning to do?

Well, I’m planning to grab my stuff and evacuate the building.

It was a strange conversation. But, fire alarms tend to throw us all off our game and I can’t blame my coworker for her comments. I work on the fourth floor of a building that has about 800 people in it. There are two stairwells. I typically take the stairs every day. I don’t get as much exercise as I should and I figured the stairs were an easy way to at least feel like I’m doing something.

There are five flights of 12 steps each and one flight of 15 steps. There’s not a lot to do while you are walking the stairs. I have counted them in every combination you can think of: counting by 2s, 3s, 4s, 6s, fibonaci sequencing. Funny thing is that taking the stairs pretty much takes the same amount of time that it takes to take the elevator.

But, yesterday, of course, no one took the elevator. Our building had an actual fire a few months ago and that is still fresh in people’s minds. No one wants to get stuck in an elevator during a fire. So, I made my way from the top floor to the first floor in a stairwell with 400 other people. I’m not concerned with crowds or claustrophobia. But as we inched down a step at a time in a big mass of humanity, it was obvious why people die in fires. It takes a certain amount of time to get that many people through a confined space.

Eventually, I made it outside. The weater in Utah right now is fantastic. Fall is on full display with the trees full of vibrant colored leaves. The sky was a brilliant azure blue with white puffy clouds and the contrails of planes playing etch-a-sketch from horizon to horizon. The 75 degree weather was perfect.

And it was a good thing as we all stood in the parking lot waiting for either the fire trucks to arrive, or the all clear to reenter the building.

As we waited to hear the surprisingly reason that the alarms went off, I thought about a time many years ago when I found ignoring the fire alarm.

I was working as an email consultant in Fargo, ND. We were migrating a hospital from Exchange 5.5 to Novell GroupWise. We spent months preparing for it. We had a long weekend to get the migration completely. About 10:00pm on the first night as I was frantically getting my migration servers kicked off, I was interrupted by the fire alarm. I was on this job as the “expert,” but honestly, I’d never done a migration this large before. I was really worried about getting through it in time.

As the alarm blared, I walked to the conference room door, opened it and smelled the distinctive scent of burned popcorn. Nope, not abandoning my servers because someone left their popcorn too long in the microwave. Interestingly, the fire trucks rolled up and the firefighters were pretty annoyed when there wasn’t an actual fire to fight.

Yesterday, we had no fire trucks arrive. It quickly became obvious what had caused the alarm to go off.

But, why would testing the fog machine set off the fire alarm?

Because it’s not a fire alarm, it’s a smoke alarm and a fog machine makes smoke. Fake smoke, but do you really want your alarms to be able to tell the difference?

It’d say the test was a failure.

After 30 minutes the all clear was given and we made our way back into the building. I wasn’t too disappointed that there wasn’t an actual fire.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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