I have experienced the pandemonium that happens when you shoo one thousand working professionals out of a twenty story high rise. It’s called a Fire Drill for Grown People (FDGP).
The office I temp at hosts a number of different companies. It’s kind of like a college dorm except I share a floor with attorneys and financial advisers instead of athletes and philosophy majors.
I had already made the morning coffee and settled into my receptionist area when, all of a sudden, the double doors swung shut. I stood up with purpose. The doors had swung shut of their own volition? This was a job for the receptionist! I ran to the doors and tried to open them back up, but they were locked shut, trapping my inside with a floor of working professionals who would drink all of the coffee in a matter of minutes and, after it ran out, would revert to a feral and vicious state. How would I maintain order? What would I say when the attorneys and financial advisers asked why they couldn’t get through the front door?
I snapped out of my daydream. My boss trotted toward me with two bright, neon orange vests.
“It’s a fire drill!” she whispered, handing me a vest, “Put this on and help me alert the tenants!”
My last fire drill occurred in high school. My drafting teacher, a husky old man named Mr. Hank, remained seated as he ate a sub sandwich and stared at his game of computer solitaire. My classmates and I shared puzzled glances as we wondered if he would even bother asking us to leave the room. Finally, he pounded his chest with his fist until he let out a loud cough slash belch. Only then did he lean forward to rise out of his seat and mutter,
“Alright, ya’ll. Better git a move on.”
Today, however, I was the one facilitating order in a massive evacuation. Within seconds I had transformed into Dwight from The Office and took long strides down the hallways as I knocked on office doors and announced,
“We are experiencing a fire drill! Please collect your things and proceed to the nearest emergency exit!”
Then, after realizing that there was only one emergency exit, I changed my announcement to:
“We are experiencing a fire drill! Please collect your things. … The fire exit is near the freight elevator on the side of the building that faces the road!”
|This way, boys and girls!
The tenants begrudgingly left their offices, some not even bothering to grab their purses or briefcases. All gave me a look of pure annoyance that conveyed four words: Really? I mean, really.
Between the two of us, my boss and I had nearly evacuated the entire floor.
“Where are the Guy Brothers?” she suddenly asked. “I don’t remember seeing them!”
I ran around the corner to the office of Joe and Jake Guy, Attorneys at Law, and knocked on the door. It was cracked open. After no one answered, I peeked in.
“Mr. Guy?” I asked. No one answered. Then I saw the foot.
“Mr. Guy, are you hiding under your desk?”
“We’re having a fire drill,” I said.
“I’m not going!” he countered.
“It’s for your safety.”
“I have clients!”
I went back to my boss and explained that Mr. Guy would not be joining the rest of the floor.
“Are you kidding me? Where is he?” she said, heading back to the front. she returned a few minutes later, saying,
“Well, guess he’s just going to burn. Let’s go.”
The escape route, a slim, poorly ventilated stairwell, was way more dangerous than any fire. With minimal wiggle room, I proceeded to make the trek down eighteen flights of stairs. In front of me: most of my floor and a couple of representatives from the sports PR firm on the 17th floor. Behind me: the entirety of The Center for Japan in Atlanta.*
The employees from the Center for Japan chattered calmly amongst themselves while an embarrassing number of Americans questioned the legitimacy of the fire alarm.
“I heard that we had a real fire!” someone said.
“Oh, no! We had better hurry!” said another.
“Isn’t that crazy? A real fire happening on the same day as a scheduled fire drill? I mean, who would have thought?”
It took ten minutes to make it to the courtyard. Once we were outside, the building officials began to make the rounds and congratulate everyone on a job well done.
“You can all go back up now!” they said, ushering everyone back toward the stairwell.
“Excuse me?” I heard someone ask. “Am I to understand that you want us to actually go up the stairs?”
“Well, the elevators won’t be working for twenty more minutes.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” someone else yelled.
A cloud of fury over the courtyard that day as more and more people began to huff about having to hike back the way they came. I can now say that I have seen people reach the cusp of violence over the notion of having to go up the stairs or wait to take the elevator. As a crowd swarmed to the other side of the building to wait out the the lines for the boxes that would lift them back to their offices, the Center for Japan simply called a quick pow-wow where they talked quietly amongst themselves. Then, with one cohesive nod of the head, they walked back toward the stairs and filed back in.
“Want to go after them?” one of the attorneys from my floor asked.
I looked toward the rage and sadness that loomed over the elevator line. I looked back to the Center, making their way up the first flight of stairs. Balling my fists and gathering my resolve, I replied,
“Let’s do this.”
The eighteen story climb proved to be a faster option than the elevators. I had already returned to my perch as the other tenants trickled in by two’s and three’s.
“Pretty excited about that fire drill, huh?” one of them said.
“Why do you say that?” I asked.
“‘Cause you’re still wearing that crazy vest.”
I had done that on purpose.
“Well,” I replied, “I just like looking official.”
* Name changed