Friday, 15 November 2013

Ring the alarm ...

10pm, I leave the couch for some tea and on my way to the kitchen a bad smell irritates my nose: SMOKE! Not the kind of smoke that makes it way into your apartment from your smoking neighbours open windows. No, not this smoke. I mean the real thing, the smoke-smoke thing. The one that leaves you unconscious on the floor.

( photo: workplace, not where I live)
We have a very thick and solid door at the entrance of our apartment. So I assumed the smoke had made its way through one of the air ways between the apartments, within the walls. I thought so, until I had opened our entrance door and some really bad smoke greeted me. That's when the ADRENALINE rushes through your veins and the auto-mode starts, no matter what you think, you DO.
Quick words to Mr Paula: You better get dressed, could be that we have to get outside really fast, I have to check what's going on in this house, is it coming from one of the lower floors? If so, I have to alarm the neighbours on the top floors. We live on a top storey in a medium-sized apartment building. In case of a fire, those on the upper floors ... well, you know. I run upstairs and are ... bewildered! How a large building can smell so badly.

I press my thumb on the first door bell, then the next door bell and the next. Each bell 5 secs, then another round. 10pm. Every door bell sounds differently. All I can do is listen to the sounds they make and wait. Do I hear something behind the door? How long should I wait? Is it wise to wait? What does it mean, if no one opens the door? Slow neighbours. Neighbours in bathrobes. 1 out of 4 openes the door. Check. The first neighbour who opens a door looks at me, with a perplex face and complains "Wow. This smell is really bad! Why is this awful smoke in the air?".
I ask her: "Did you just burn some food in your kitchen? Does this smoke come from your apartment?" No, not her.

Then I hesitate for one moment. Is it wise to open the windows in the stairway of not? Chimney, smoke, fire, oxygen feeds fire, smoke blocks lungs, the nature of fire ... I decided to open the window. Bad idea? Where can I learn how to do it right?

Next floor, pushing door bells. 2 out of 4 open the doors. 1 bath robe, 1 tracksuit.
Again the perplex faces and the complaints. One neighbour asks me "What is going on? Why this awful smell?"
Me: "I don't know"

I run off to the next floor, the smoke is really bad. One floor further down I see an open door, I ask the girl who awaits someone in the hallway, if they burnt something in the kitchen? She shakes her head. The smell is not as bad down on her floor as it was on my floor.

One floor further down no smoke at all. I am narrowing down the potential apartments. Quite a lot of doors remain closed. I continue, press my thumb on the door bells.Those bells make a hell of a noise, at 10pm. It seems and feels appropriate. Ring the alarm. I can't believe how many people don't open their doors. They probably are not at home. But what if  the neighbour that caused the smoke already lies on the floor, unconscious? How difficult will it be to remove the smoke from our goods in case we need to be evacuated and a fire breaks out?

Some neighbours who had opened the doors before, return to their apartments, others come back outside and start to gather and chat about the smoke. Now that I am sitting here on my couch, I start to realize how not a single neighbour had offerend any help or had support me, by ringing at the doorbells.. Instead they had flocked like sheep. Afterwards one neighbour smiled at me, thanked me sincerely for caring, acting.

Third floor. Ringing the bell. A girl opens, looks at me "It's me. I did something really bad in the kitchen, I am so sorry!"

I stare at her. I ask her: Are you SURE everything is ok by now? There is no fire, everything under control?"
She nodds and you can tell she feels guilty. I am not angry at all. Just very worried. She moved in a few weeks ago, a young student for the first time on her own, abroad, alone in a 4-room-apartment. Its a long distance between the kitchen, where a pot can be easily forgotten on the stove and the living room, where you enter the social network or skype with your friends and forget about time.

Ok. In the end it was nothing. I did react like a dog. Ringing the alarm. No way I could have stayed in my apartment.
Later on Mr Paula said "As long as no fire brigade is around, everything is safe."
Excuse me? Someone has to call the fire brigade (there are no smoke detectors in our building). The don't show up if no one finds out about the fire. The last fire in my neighbourhood happened not long ago. It was not the person who had caused the fire who had called the fire brigade. That person was no longer able to call anyone. It's the neighbours who ring the alarm.Our building would not meet todays standards of safety regulations. There is only one stairway, no alternative way to get out.

( photo: workplace, not where I live)
So. Mr Paula was right in the end. Everything was ok. Even though my kitchen smelled like burned toast. Without any toast in the toaster. Before I left the apartment to search for the cause of this smoke, I had actually searched the toaster for burned toast, deep down in the toaster. There had to be some black piece of burned toast, how else could it smell that badly in my whole apartment? I was absolutely puzzled. Where does the smoke come from?!

Did I overreact? Actually, this question does not matter to me. I had no choice but had to act.

A trainer in a first aid course once told us: in case we administer first aid and need support, we should not just ask for help but point at someone "You, with the green shirt, I need you here." This is the only way to get people in a crowd to help you. The group changes everything. Now that I sit here, his words come to my mind. It would have made absolutely sense to ask the neighbours if they please proceed to the next floors and do as I do. Well, as mentioned above, I was not thinking, I was acting.

Time for a cup of tea.

1 comment:

  1. It's easy to say you overreacted after finding out it wasn't an actual fire. Had it been an actual fire you would have saved lifes and then you'd be called a hero. I'd rather "overreact" a thousand times than miss one single occasion when I could have made the difference but was affraid to because of the chance people might say I'm overreacting.
    But time for some soothing tea sounds perfect! Enjoy your weekend :-)