A hangover from 1666?

I feel as though the Brits are obsessed with Fire Safety. I never recall the subject having so much importance back home in the US. I don’t know if it’s because a large population are confined to a relatively small island, or if it’s some strange hangover from the great London fire of 1666. Regardless, Fire Safety is an odd thing to feel is haunting your every move.

My very first trip to London involved a fire alarm story. I was literally in the shower with shampoo in my hair on my last morning before leaving when the alarms went off; back then I actually thought that meant something so quick threw a towel around my head, put my pajamas and a sweatshirt back on, and went outside until the fire brigade came and cleared us to return to the building. I had a funny sense of deja vu a few years later when living in my first England apartment and the same thing happened. This time, having spent much time in the UK over several years, I had no intention of going outside with a wet head until… someone from the building managers office came and forced us all out. They were actually going into apartments and counting down each apartment on each floor to make sure all people were accounted for and that all apartments were emptied in the drill; quite an unusually harsh fire drill if you ask me. Even worse, not only did we have to leave the building but had to walk (in pajamas with wet hair and slippers on) across the parking lot to the “fire assembly point” before they let us back in. Quite the event.

In my new apartment, the fire alarm goes off for a few rings every Monday morning at 9 am, and rings many other mornings around that time. I’ve gotten completely blase about it; classic boy-who-cried-wolf scenario could strike at any time. This week on Wed. it was ringing for longer than normal, I actually contemplated leaving the flat (to go to McDonalds for breakfast because the noise was annoying me more than anything else). Once it stopped I disrobed and got into the bath… only for it to start up again twice more during my bath. It was quite the exciting morning, really.

Aside from hyperactive fire alarms, OCD fire drills and even sightings of the fire brigade, I find that there are more reminders of fire safety around here than I have ever seen. For one, I cannot sneeze in my building without running into fire extinguishers. There is one in my kitchen, two in the hallway immediately outside my door and two more just down the hall on … the other side of a “fire door”.

The Brits seem to love fire doors. In both my current and previous apartments, every single room has a fire door with a warning of the terrible things that will happen if the doors are propped open. Which they always are. With those little rubber triangle wedge thingies. That come with the apartment so you can prop the doors open. Because living in an apartment where, once you walk inside the main door, you are in a small foyer/hallway with nothing but more closed doors is really a bit clausterphobic. Thus in my flat you come into a small foyer with three more doors, to a bedroom, bathroom, and main room. The main room then has an additional door between it and the kitchen. Of these four internal doors, only the bathroom door is ever used.

I thought this was just a strange household thing until they started adding doors in my corridor at work. Our building has a fantastic long corridor along the front with probably forty offices per floor, and we are grouped by management division onto the different floors. As such, a wander down the hall gives you the opportunity to chat with colleagues and get things done. Unfortunately they have now added three fire doors to this single corridor on each floor, one on each end before the staircases (perhaps I can understand that) but also one smack in the middle of the hallway. It is this fire door that makes me crazy. Yes, these are very technologically sound fire doors, held open with magnets released in the event of a fire alarm, so no rubber stoppers (not to mention the fact that they might actually be useful!) Regardless, it’s a bit mysterious to me that all the fire doors are made of wood.

The other amusing factoid that I have here arises from the amazing combination of a large number of both fire doors and fire extinguishers. Take one guess as to what heavy object is most frequently propping open the fire doors themselves?

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3 responses to “A hangover from 1666?

  1. Funny, my apartment building in DC has a stupidly high number of random fire drills, too. Every time the ear-splitting alarm goes off, it’s an automatic flash back to college dorm life, though to truly recreate the dorm experience, it should be going off at three in the morning, forcing everyone outside in their pajamas then back in to trudge up ten flights of stairs. But I’m noticing I’m getting a bit blase about evacuating, too.

    With fire doors on long hallways, I always just automatically assume they are trying to cut back on the off-hours indoor roller skating parties and simply doing so under the rhetoric of “fire safety,” but that might not be the dynamic at play in your building.

  2. In my work building, either the fire alarm system is haunted or there are many many incompetent workers in the place. It seems like we had a run of at least one false fire alarm every month for an extended period, to the point where we found that if we stalled long enough before heading for the staircases they would sound the “all clear” before haviong to waste the trip down as well as a full half hour.

    It’s always that some tradesperson installing new ethernet cable or the like hits the wrong wire and trips everything.

  3. Pingback: Par-tay « Not From Around Here

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