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a fire truck view from my own high rise

The next time you’re moaning about having to attend a mandatory fire safety program, interrupting your day, at your workplace, think about this story.

The other night I was babysitting for my daughter’s two children under two on the 13th floor of a high rise her family was renting for vacation. I was burping the baby when I heard fire sirens. I rolled the baby off my chest onto the couch (the toddler was asleep) and darted to the front window. Fire engines were storming into the block from both directions. They met and disappeared under the overhang of her building.

While my breath made siren sounds of its own, I made a mental plan: soak a bath towel and place it on the floor next to the door to the hallway, and grab a blanket off the bed and place both kids in the middle of it on the floor.

I sprinted across the living room to the kitchen bar, grabbed my phone, and called my daughter. If we were to perish, I wanted her to know that I had a plan: starve the fire of oxygen, keep smoke out of the apartment, and evacuate the children if instructed to do so. Struggling to hear her above the crowd noise of a White Sox game, I tried to sound nonchalant:  “Honey, I think there’s a fire in this building.”

My daughter started laughing. What was there to laugh about? Her children’s lives were in my hands.  Did she think I was joking?

“Oh, I forgot to tell you, Mom. A fire drill was scheduled for the building tonight.”

As I was listening to her, I walked back to the living room window. Just that quickly, the street had jammed with fire trucks, paramedic vans, and people who had poured out of nearby apartment buildings. And, indeed, the firemen were showing no signs of haste. Meandering among the trucks, they looked as if they were checking whether their drill procedure was working according to their disaster preparedness plan.

“That would have been good to know, honey,” I said. “Just wanted you to know that I had a plan in case you came home to find us fried.” It was not a time to be funny, but humor helped me get my breath back.

I picked up the baby, cuddled in a fleece receiving blanket, and reran my fire plan in my head. Where had the wet towel and blanket strategies come from so suddenly?

It took just a second to remember.  The sound of the sirens had alerted my nurse-self to kick in. To remember instructions from a zillion mandatory fire safety programs I’d attended –and yes, moaned about—during my forty years of nursing.

As a nurse, retired for eleven years, now playing Grandma, I was super happy to have had that archive to borrow from in this potential emergency!