Have you ever had one of those dreams where you dream you are waking up? I was in the middle of just such a dream, waking up and telling an excited Edward that there was only one more day until his birthday, when I sat bolt upright in bed to the sound of the fire alarms.
We have very loud, very professional fire alarms in our house that were installed back when the building was classified as a group home rather than a single family home. We have big exit signs, flashing white lights, and loud sirens that could wake the dead. It was 1:30 AM when all of these things suddenly blasted forth, and the family sprang into action.
My wife lay completely still in bed, half asleep and paralyzed with…fear? surprise? confusion? I’m not sure. I, on the other hand, leaped from the bed in search of the fire. “Gotta fine da fire, rassum frassum, fire, blrrrgrrrr,” I mumbled incoherently as I stumbled around the house looking for smoke or flames. Edward started to cry in his bed, and so I left him there and searched faster for the fire. FYI, if your house ever catches on fire in the middle of night, DO NOT GO LOOKING FOR IT! Get your family outside to safety. As I said earlier, we should have had a better plan.
So I thrash my way into the kitchen, and since I have not seen any smoke or flames yet my assumption is that the cat has jumped up the wall and pulled the fire alarm (which we have because of that zoning thing I mentioned two paragraphs back). I do not see the cat. I do not see the fire. I am still at least 40% asleep. I look up at the little display box on our wall that controls the fire system, and I see that it reads “2nd Floor Sanctuary.” Phew! Good news.
“It’s okay!” I yell up to my wife, who by now has gotten out of bed and is gathering the children and pets that I have left upstairs in my haste to jump into a potential inferno, “the house is not on fire! It’s only the church!” Only the church. Ahhhhh, but as I had forgotten for that moment, our house is connected to the church!
So now what? Get the kids outside? Where? The lawn? Which is towards the church? Which for all I know is going up in a blaze of glory? I decide to wait for the fire trucks. Whenever I cook bacon they arrive within seconds. Surely they would be there soon. And yet they did not seem to be coming. Minutes went by, which was weird because the fire station is a block from our house. When they do arrive, they seem to know that they should have been faster. They tell each other things in a disappointed way, things like their response time. But they arrived.
When I see them arrive I decide to go outside. First I throw a coat on over my pajamas, and then slip into my dress shoes, because they were the first things I could find. Decision making is hard at 1:40 AM, especially with the lights and noises crashing into brains non-stop. When I get outside I look to see if I can detect any flames or smoke coming from the church. Nothing I could see, so I go talk to the fire fighters, explaining to them what the little box said, and what had happened. They go inside to verify the information. This is smart of them. Though I was annoyed at the time, now that I think about it if I showed up to fight a potential fire and some guy in pajama pants, a winter coat, and black dress shoes walked up and pointed me to where he thought the fire was, I’d probably double-check it too.
I asked if I should have my family come out. The last I had seen them they were all huddled on the front stairs holding their ears and squinting. No, the BFD quickly determined that there was no actual fire. It had probably been a bat or a bird flying through the sensor. They asked me if anybody had been in the church that day. And of course they had been. Tons of people, all day long, but none of them tall enough to reach the top of the sanctuary to mess with the sensor. And finally, after a very exciting while, we were given the all clear and I got to go home and try and convince my children that sleep was still possible.
There had been no fire. And thank God for that. This middle-of-the-night wake-up call was a wake-up call to me. Figuratively. We’d had a plan at our last house, where to meet, what to do, but we hadn’t done one yet for our new house. What if there had been a fire? I would have abandoned my children and rushed headlong into the flames. They would have maybe tried to go back to the co-op where our last meeting spot was. No, not good. We need to know what to do. Everyone needs to know what to do. I’m very tired today, but I’m glad we got the chance to have an unscheduled drill. Next time we’ll do better.
I hope there is never a next time.