8.4 Fire Alarm

Last week, I was talking with my mom on the phone in my apartment when the fire alarm went off. I told her to wait for a minute or two to see if it stopped or they made some type of announcement about this being a test. The alarm didn't stop and there was no announcement. Told her I'd call her back, put my shoes and coat on and headed out into the cold.

My building is actually two buildings that are connected. I exited through the stairwell into a parking area between the buildings. Immediately across from this was the gym on the first floor. The gym has large windows and there were people running on treadmills and using the elliptical machines. Other people were lifting free weights. They lifted their weights and continued their work-outs as though no alarm was going off. Sure, most of them had earphones in, but if you can't hear the alarm, you might be curious about the growing number of people congregating between the buildings.

I scanned up and down the buildings and realized that although there was a growing number of people appearing down where I was, many people seemed to be staying put in their apartments, watching television or on computers.

The first thing I thought about was how this was strangely a good metaphor for today's political climate. We're going along with our day-to-day lives while the world is burning down around us. I'm guilty of this too, so don't send me angry comments about being a righteous ass. I am a righteous ass, just not about this stuff.


This just struck me as odd. Now firetruck sirens could be heard in the distance, getting louder and closer every moment. Nobody seemed to be taking this seriously. I mean, I know that everyone hates fire alarm drills. But what if this was not a drill? As soon as I wrote that, it seemed like a stupid and obvious thing to say, but there you go.

I thought there were some social contracts that were universal, that we could agree upon that transcended all cultures and languages, that become easily understood symbols. The fire alarm being one of them.

I could be wrong, it's been known to happen every once in a while.

Last year, I was walking along College Street near the University of Toronto. At an intersection, an ambulance approached with sirens blaring. Fire trucks, police cars and ambulances usually pause at an intersection when the light is red, just to make sure that all cars have stopped. This particular ambulance did just that - stopped at the red light. At the same time, two people crossed the street in front of the ambulance, slowly, I might add. The paramedics threw up their hands, but the two pedestrians just pointed at the fact that they did technically have the right of way. The only contentious item might have been the person who they were racing to get to or the person already in the back of their ambulance. But, not a big deal, right? Those two people REALLY had to get across the street.

The fire trucks arrived at my apartment building and within a few minutes, we got the go ahead to return inside. Maybe the people in the gym were right not to interrupt their workouts and maybe the people who couldn't turn off their televisions had the right idea?

If so, then maybe we're all fucked*.

*This is a downer, but I didn’t know how to end it.

Paul Dore