We Didn’t Start the Fire

In the middle of my art class today, the fire alarm went off (rudely interrupting my creative flow and drowning out the new Chris Merritt album I was listening to on my iPod). I ditched my class and went and found my beloved coworkers from the parking office. As I stood there, worried about finishing my still-life on time yet thankful to take a break from it, my mind turned to another experience I had involving work and fire alarms.

When I was a senior in high school, I worked at the YMCA ChildWatch where I entertained kiddos while their parents pumped some iron. One snowy January day, I was working alone during the evening gym rush and had about 18 children all by myself. I was positioned in the middle-ish of the room, a baby in each arm, and attempted to manage the chaos while soothing crying infants.

As if the amount of noise in the room wasn’t enough, the fire alarm suddenly went off, sending my kids into a panic. I corralled the children against a wall, franticly grabbed coats from the hooks, and herded the brood outside.

Thankfully, one of the front desk workers came to my aid once we had left the building and we quickly stuffed children into coats, hoping the right coat got on the right child.

Many parents, work-outs abruptly ended, came and got their kids and left. Soon, it was just me and a handful of children. We watched the rest of the occupants exit the building: ice skaters on hands and knees as to not scratch the blades, aerobics classes in tank tops and shorts, yoga people with their precious mats in tow.

Needless to say, not many people were happy venturing outside into the cold winter weather. The fire department took a full twenty minutes to arrive and declare the building safe to re-enter.

One girl, about 4, could not stop bawling. I tried to console her, tell her she was safe, and assuage her fears, but she would not stop. Even her mother could not calm her down.

As we waited, one of the building supervisors came up to talk to me. I asked him what had happened: if this was a drill or if someone had pulled the alarm. He looked at me and laughed. “You didn’t know?”

“Know what?”

“The alarm came from ChildWatch. Someone in there pulled it.”

Whoops.

All of a sudden, the 4 year old girl started wailing even louder. She whispered something to her mom, and her mom brought her over to talk to me.

“It seems like Sarah was the one to pull the alarm,” she told me.

In the mass confusion of ChildWatch, Sara had pushed the dress up box up to the wall where the fire alarm was and pulled it. Heaven knows why.

In the end, Sara went home sobbing, the exercisers trudged back inside, and I was the brunt of jokes for many months to come. Lesson learned: I do not have enough eyes to watch 18 children at once.

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