Friday, November 23, 2007

Fire in Falkirk

It's Friday, it's Falkirk, it'a tough morning. The hotel's alarm system went off last night and we immediately called downstairs to find out if we were in imminent danger, flames licking at our door. No, no we were told, it was a false alarm. But, they also told us, they didn't know how to shut it off. So we laid in bed with the lights off as the sound blasted us for what seemed like hours. A second call down had the clerk annoyed, it would only be a 'wee while' and we needed to be a 'wee bit patient'. Instead I just got a wee bit angry.

My reaction to fire alarms has changed over the two years that I have been disabled. I am on the third floor of this hotel, that's four flights up (given the European's inability to count). The elevator is not usable during fire. I am suddenly very alone and very vulnerable. I looked to see where the 'gather point' was for those with disabilities and it's out in the hallway, near the end. Hey, about where you'd expect a fire.

While the image of a fireman, all rough and sweaty, carrying me down a ladder might sound a bit Scarlet and Rhett but it scares the hell out of me. I can just imagine some guy hollering down, "Hey, Hal, we got a meaty one up here." I can imagine being left for last, dragged out of a window that's too small, plummetting to a safety ring and tearing through hitting the ground.

But it was a false alarm.

That kept ringing and ringing and ringing.

Reminding me, at every bleep, that my world was no longer as safe as it was before. It's been a tough night with little sleep, and the day is yet to come.


Anonymous said...

I can't imagine what it would be like to think about that fact that you may not be able to get out. I often think of my children in there beds and what I would do if that were to happen. My daugther is in a crib but my son in a "big boy bed!" They would both need my help out and that is more then scary for me!!

Andrea said...

Google "evacuation chair." I know it would be a major nuisance to have to pack and carry with you everywhere, but given how much you travel and how often you end up at hotels above ground level, maybe it's something worth looking into. Or else passing along this information and trying to persuade hotels to invest in one as a "reasonable accommodation" for ALL their wheelchair riding guests. The idea of the evacuation chair would be that you could get out along with everyone else, as long as you have at least one person who can help you down the stairs.

On Sept 11, the one wheelchair user I heard of who got out of the World Trade Center alive used an evacuation chair (he had bought one for himself after the first time the WTC was attacked in the 1990s; two alternating teams from among his office mates helped bring him down the stairs). People apparently reported seeing large clusters of dozens of wheelchair users waiting near the stairwells on every floor--but the other wheelchair users in the building died because there wasn't time to get them out. To my mind, any evacuation plan that calls for people with mobility impairments to simply wait is simply unacceptable. I don't know if there are alternatives besides evacuation chairs, but that's the one I know of.


Anjie (mom to Adam, 5) said...

I can relate, a bit. When we were in Scotland a few years back, there was a bomb scare at the Glasgow airport. The alarms went off & they shut off all of the elevators & escalators. My son was in a stroller & I had all my luggage. I had to somehow make it down 2 huge flights of stairs. Nobody offered to help for the longest time, & I was left struggling with my 3 year old in his stroller & 3 really heavy bags, trying to get down the stairs. When somebody finally offered to help me I was so peeved. We ended up standing in the lobby of the airport, listening to the sirens, for over an hour. They kept announcing that there was no emergency & to stay calm. All I could think of was the people who worked in 2nd World Trade Centre tower who were told to return to their offices. This happened to be the same week as the London bombings, so the crowd wasn't exactly calm.

I know a stroller & a wheelchair are not the same thing, but being a single woman with a big kid in a stroller really made me appreciate the barriers you must face on a daily basis.

Baba Yaga said...

Well, damn. You've been in Falkirk & I didn't know. 8-(