People living in houses often ask, “What’s it like living in high rise?” This question came to mind last week when we received a notice from our building manager.

The notice addressed our “audible enunciators.”  An inspection is coming up to make sure they are working.

In case you’ve never heard of these, I hadn’t either until we got the notice.

Some back story: One day, awhile after we moved in, I was peacefully reading in our living room when a loud male voice shouted from nowhere: “This is a test. This is a test.”

I froze. Where was the voice coming from? Who was it?

After what seemed like hours, he went on to say it was a fire safety precaution to make sure the alert system was working. I’d certainly been through enough fire drills in my nursing career and allowed myself to relax. I’d forgotten that we’d covered up our red alert box behind a bookshelf.

Our audible enuniciator

Our audible enuniciator

But until this recent notice came, I didn’t know the red box is called an “audible enunciator.”

A nursing memory comes to mind. In the sixties I was new as a staff RN in a 67-bed hospital in Minneapolis. They’d had a traumatic fire years before, and fire safety was prominently drilled into us during our hospital orientation.  Upon completion, we orientees, supposedly, knew exactly what fast action to take if we spotted a fire or smelled smoke.

Returning from dinner one PM, I approached my empty nurses’ station. On the counter stood a cardboard cutout of flames. Since it was in my way, I picked it up and moved it to the side. Immediately, the fire safety police materialized and informed me in horrified terms that I had flunked the safety test. Didn’t I remember from orientation that a simulated fire may be a warning for me to initiate immediate action?

Obviously, no.

I don’t remember the consequences of failing the fire drill, but, ever since that scare, I think I have noted every possible hint of fire. Except, of course, when the  “audible enunciator” spoke to me in my very own living room.