About 10 years ago I went to a supermarket in Eastbourne. Just as I arrived the fire alarm went off and so I walked straight out. This strikes me as a logical response to an alarm; a logical response but not, it seems, a common response. People continued to shop. People continued to enter. I heard one woman complaining about the noise as she wheeled her trolley into the building. She was actually walking into a building where the alarm system was telling her that there was a fire and her concern was about the noise. The staff didn’t know what to do. I’ll write that again – the staff didn’t know what to do! This still shocks me. From where I stood outside I could see supervisors and managers walking around with clipboards looking anxious and chaotic. They didn’t know what to do either!
This happened just a few years after Sainsbury’s in Chichester burned to the ground. In that store (which was only 8 years old) 10 minutes after the alarm sounded the place was an inferno. Fortunately no-one was killed. And here we were, an alarm system telling us of a fire and people either ignoring it or being uncertain how to respond.
I’ve just seen a post on twitter about a fire alert in an office in London. The lesson for today was the lack of awareness of procedures and escape routes. I hope the lesson is acted on.
Why do we ignore these things – not just fire alarms but other things as well? Warning lights on the dashboard, lumps where there shouldn’t be lumps, messages from our subconscious that things are not quite right. Do we think we can beat the odds? “It will probably be OK so I shall assume it is OK.” We override our own common sense.
Knowing what to do when an alarm goes off is an insurance policy. We each need to know what to do in the event of a fire and make sure that the people we are responsible for also know. And then do it.
10 minutes from alarm to inferno. Do yourself a favour – step away from the trolley.