False Alarm Again

Fire alarms normally have that long, steady machine-gun ring which brings you right back to high school: persistent, alarming, as they are meant to be. The alarm I heard at 2:00 AM this morning was different: claaannnngggg, pause, claaannnngggg, pause, claaannnngggg, like a high-pitched church bell.

Not an uncommon occurrence in this apartment building; I had often heard the alarms ringing away on other floors in the past — but school-style, not this slow, steady tolling — and I simply assumed it was my floor’s turn tonight. I picked up the phone, dialed up building management (not in the building, unfortunately), and told the late-night emergency line operator that the alarms were going off again.

Pandora was not too happy about this.

About ten minutes later, the bells were still going, and there were agitated voices in the hallway. I opened my door (quite forgetting that in a real fire, one is supposed to feel the doorknob for heat and crouch first) and leaned out in time to see a neighbor fleeing down the stairs. From what I could hear, the bells were going off on all the floors now, and I gathered that I should probably err on the side of caution and get out as well.

After herding my iBook, power adapter, wallet, and other pocketable items into a backpack, I grabbed a protesting Pandora, stuffed her into her as-yet unused carrier, and headed down the stairs. There were neither flames nor smoke, but by the time I reached the front door, about thirty of my neighbors were milling on the sidewalk outside, and a fire engine had pulled up.

As expected, it turned out to be a false alarm. To everyone’s annoyance, the key to the alarm controls was with the landlady, who lived off-site. It was another hour before someone came to switch off the clanging bells so everyone in the building could get back to sleep.

This was not the first time. Nonetheless, the night served as a suitable drill, so now I know just how fast I can get me and the cat out of the building.