Thursday, 02 August 2012
Do Not Use The Elevators
By Jackie Harrison
Was I dreaming? It seemed like I had just dozed off, having gone to sleep about 11:20PM.
I thought I heard, "Fire! Fire!" I shook off my slumber and looked at my clock. It was 12:45. I listened again. Sure enough the alarm in my condominium was going off. "Fire! Fire," it said, "Do not use the elevators."
I asked myself, "Should I ignore it and just stay put?" A voice inside me said no. "If this is a real fire," I told myself, "no fire equipment can reach beyond the tenth floor and I am on the eighteenth floor.”
I hurriedly tore off my night gown and threw on my handy, thin house dress with nothing underneath but panties. I grabbed my emergency inhaler. Something told me to wet a towel to take with me. I slid into my old, scuff bedroom shoes (a big mistake), grabbed my keys and locked the door.
I started down the stairs. I was alright until I got to the 12th floor where the stairs were filled with smoke. I placed the wet towel over my nose and mouth. By the 10th floor, heavy black smoke stung my eyes. I tried to enter the door to get out of the stairway when I encountered a young paramedic carrying a lady on his back. He would not allow me to enter.
I followed behind him, struggling to keep shoes on. The lady cried out as the paramedic stumbled a bit, "You are going to drop me!." He assured her he was not. They soon left me in the darkness.
The closer to the ground I got the worse the smoke was. I thanked God that I had the foresight to bring along a wet towel.
I passed through the lobby, even heavier with smoke, and out the front where people were standing and sitting around.
There were nine fire trucks and several EMT vehicles. A couple of women were lying on stretchers and several people were receiving portable oxygen. I wanted to ask for some of it but my pride would not allow it in spite of my chronic respiratory condition.
I decided to go to the ocean deck behind the building to get away from the smoke.
It was not a typical summer night. The 40 mile-per-hour winds were fierce and cold, penetrating my thin dress. I was short of breath and I kept losing my shoes as I scuffed across the concrete. I wasn't sure I could make it to the lounge chairs. I hoped the darkness was hiding my struggle.
Shivering, I watched thick black smoke billowing from the roof of the building. The same paramedic who carried the woman down the stairs came to check on us. I asked how the lady was and he said, "She was a trooper."
I said, "You were the trooper."
I remained on the pool deck for 4-1/2 hours with no word about when or if we could return to our apartments. I decided to brave the walk once more and go up front to find out.
I had hardly sat down on the side wall of the building when I experienced another problem. It was an urgent bladder call. The only bathrooms were inside.
When I was on the pool deck, I remembered a man going into the men's sauna. "Thank goodness I have my key to the women's sauna," I thought. However, this meant another torturous route across the dark and windy deck.
Inside the sauna, total darkness and oppressive smoke greeted me. I felt my way to the toilet, trying to hold my breath and using it as fast as I could. Then I walked to the wind barrier area on the pool deck.
I stretched out on the recliner and had barely closed my eyes when raindrops started falling. I struggled once more to the front of the building to find shelter. It was here that I first noticed my dress was on backward and there were holes in the soles of my shoes.
I returned to my apartment at 8AM. My daughter was due to arrive for her four-day visit at 10AM.
The next day the muscles in the back of my thighs almost gave way. They reminded me that I need to practice stair-walking in case of another emergency.
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