A Superhero had just dropped in on Lois Lane for an exclusive interview when I started to smell smoke. We were having a sleepover with three of the grand kids, and watching Superman as we nibbled popcorn. I stepped onto the deck to see if something was burning outside. We live on the 7th floor and have an excellent view, but there was nothing to see. I went to our apartment door and opened it to the hallway, where the smell was strong. I couldn't see smoke, but even the kids asked what was on fire. Dee has no sense of smell, so it was up to me: lonely at the top time.
There have been several times that the fire alarm has gone off in our building. Immediately all the elevators are blocked with automatic doors. The fire escape stairwell doors lock at the bottom when they close, so there's no way back inside, and no way to get upstairs. Two hundred people all rush out and stand on the sidewalk for an hour or so while security searches the building to make sure it's safe, before the elevators are re-opened. Everyone grumbles and moans about the inconvenience whenever it happens. Now, it was close to 10:00 pm, July 3rd, and I wasn't confident enough about the source of the smoke to want to cause a general evacuation and panic, but I knew I wanted my little grand kids out of there.
We all grabbed our shoes, I got my purse, and we hustled down the hall, which smelled even smokier. It wasn't as strong by the elevators. In the lobby there was no odor, and everyone was coming and going normally. I mentioned to one couple that I was concerned about a fire on the seventh floor, and they kind of laughed, and just hopped on the elevator anyway. I was starting to feel silly. The kids were very embarrassed to be in their pajamas in public, but I didn't want to go back upstairs. The office was closed, and I didn't know the number for our security people, so I took charge and called 911.
I explained the situation to the operator, and he started asking all sorts of questions. Of course, the reception on my phone was going haywire for some reason, and 4-year-old Will suddenly had to go to the bathroom. I directed his big sister to the restroom, still talking to the emergency dispatch people through the static, with my mind in commotion, and sweat dripping down my neck. Will realized he was being taken through the door labeled WOMEN, and began protesting. Luckily, 9-year-old Katy recognized the chaos of the situation, took charge and hauled him inside.
I was still on the phone with my back to the elevator when I heard a little boy go inside it to go upstairs. I flew to the elevator door and blocked it's closing, crying out to rescue Will, but it was some other little boy, (with his parents,) and my kids came out of the bathroom just then. The operator was murmuring calming words, probably thinking I was dashing into a burning room. It seemed I was a bit fired up! The passengers in the elevator briefly saw a semi-crazed woman in scrub-type pajamas running up and down the lobby with a cell phone to her ear. (Hopefully they were all visiting someone and I'll never see them again.)
Within minutes of my call we heard the sirens and saw the flashing lights of the firetruck. Three firemen burst through the door, loaded with hoses, axes, and other gear. They asked directions and quickly took off to follow the smoke. In another minute or two, five more firemen arrived, fully loaded with equipment, and rushed upstairs. By then, the folks in the lobby were asking questions, and becoming concerned. Katy and Lauren reported with apprehension that the time they accidentally prank-called 911, their mom had told them it was against the law to report an emergency when there wasn't one. People can get in big trouble for it, they informed me. What if there was no fire? Would Oma go to jail? "I have an idea," Will told Opa. "Why don't we just check into another room?"
I have to admit I was actually hoping for a fire by then. I had caused quite a scene. What if it was just a piece of toast? I could tell that the kids were concerned, too; not about a fire, but about the lack of a fire. Dee was carefully supportive, keeping his options open. The fire escape hadn't been his idea, but staying inside a burning building wouldn't have been a good choice either. He'd wait and see how he felt about the whole experience when he knew the results.
After twenty minutes or so, the firemen came back down to the lobby and reported it was just somebody's burned dinner. They were so great!! They thanked me for calling it in, and said I had done the right thing. They swaggered a little for the kids, which thrilled them, and told us all never to hesitate when we suspect a fire...they want to keep us all safe, whatever it takes. They said not to feel embarrassed if an emergency isn't as bad as we'd feared. We felt relieved and comforted.
The guy in charge needed my name, phone number, etc. for his paperwork. Lauren watched while he wrote it all down, and then he told me thanks again. As he left, Lauren said, "Why did he want to know your name? Is he going to send you a check?"
In our case, there was smoke and no fire. However, tonight there are several huge fires burning in our state, which have resulted in homes being destroyed and some deaths. I am grateful for the brave, compassionate people who fight the fires and are willing to protect us all. They are true Superheroes.
Illustrations from Curious George by H. A. Rey