Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Polish fire safety drill

I work in a large public institution in Warsaw and it was ‘Fire Drill Day’ today, when we all practice what would happen if a fire really did break out in the building. And if this comical farce was anything to go by, then we are all going to fry alive.

Yesterday afternoon, someone from administration gave me a tip off. She said: “Listen, don’t tell anyone, but there is going to be a surprise fire drill at 11 O’clock tomorrow.”

So I went and told everyone that there would be a surprise fire drill at 11 O’clock.

This was useful news. The mornings are particularly intense where I work and this would help us organize a little better if we all had to troop out of the building and stand around in the cold for heaven knows how long, while firemen inside ran around pretending there was a fire.

Come the morning my immediate boss was told there would be a surprise emergency fire drill at 11 O’clock. So he told all the staff…who already knew, of course.

As 11 O’clock approached the atmosphere became expectant. At 10.30 the lifts stopped working. By 10.45 people had stopped working. By 10.50, when downstairs buying sandwiches (who knows how long this would last?) I saw people in coats and hats waiting in reception for the alarm to go off. It reminded me of the Fawlty Towers episode where all the hotel guests did the same thing, hanging around reception half an hour before the alarm. Basil Fawlty told them to go “back to their rooms and act normally.”

But nobody where I work was acting ‘normally’.

And then 11 O’clock finally came. And then 11 O’clock finally went. No alarm.

The only surprise left of the ‘surprise fire drill at 11 O’clock’ was that it didn’t happen at 11 O’clock.

By 11.15 it still hadn’t happened, either.

The Director came in to the office and told me that the reason why the surprise fire drill was late, was that the fire engine had gotten stuck in the heavy Warsaw traffic!

A bad comedy script writer wouldn’t have dared to make this up.

Finally, at 11.20 the Director reappears, walking down the corridor, opening each of the doors to offices, saying: “Ok, it’s started.”

People emerging into the corridors, confused. If the fire drill had started, then where was the fire alarm?

Meanwhile, fake ‘smoke’ started to appear from the corridor around the corner.

Who was not down stairs already on the third floor where I work, trooped their way down, with fake smoke hot on their heals.

Except …our department had a problem. One of us, Wlodek [all names are changed except when it is their real ones] is disabled, and cannot walk down stairs. And the lifts stopped working forty minutes ago.

Earlier the boss had rang security, asking what to do about this. We were told that four of us had to ‘bring him down in a stretcher.’ My boss asked them if they ‘had a stretcher?’

They hadn’t. So did they expect that we would have one?

By the time we got to the stairs, Head of Security emerged with two mates. They told Wlodek to ‘go back to the office and wait till it’s over.’ So I watched Wlodek and Security disappear back down the corridor and into the fake smoke gloom.

When we got outside, the fire engine had just pulled up, watched by a few policemen who had been posted on duty by the gates. Someone heard the Chief Fireman ask one of the hundreds of people hanging around, “Which entrance is the main one?’ He hadn’t even consulted plans of the building before turning up!

We were told the performance could last ‘up to two hours’, so I was glad of my sandwiches. I was even thinking of popping home. In the end, thankfully, it only lasted about 15 minutes, when we were called back in again.

The lifts didn’t work for another hour and a half, so we drudged back up the stairs, through the fake smoke, to find Wlodek hard at work in his office.

All in all, a totally pathetic performance by all public services, and…well, a little dangerous that public buildings should be in the hands of a bunch of fools.

Still, I haven’t laughed so much in ages.


Anonymous said...

haha ,

Was Kevin Aiston the Chief fireman ?

Anonymous said...

So who really were the fools, the Fire Department that tried to conduct a fire drill or the administration of a large “public institution in Warsaw” that falsified the test conditions or the work force that remained silent and didn’t demand accountability?

It seems they interfered with the fire drill to minimize work disruption.

Presumably there is a metamorphosis from being foolish to being criminally negligent in the event of preventable death and injury.

Polish discipline and accountability is getting better, but not fast enough. Should the administrators of the institution that were responsible for falsifying the test face immediate dismissal?

In the private sector in North America if this type of action occurred on the part of a manager and the board of directors got wind of it, the managers gone. This is because legal liability would fall on their shoulders.

Frank Partisan said...

It read like a Keystone Cops movie.

Belgian Atheist said...

you sure they weren't filming for the Polish version of The Office?

luridtraversal said...

"You sure they weren't filming for the Polish version of The Office?"

That honestly is one of the best ideas I've heard in a long time. A Polish version of the Office could go on for about 90 seasons without even remotely losing ideas. Hugo, you truly might be on to something!!! My office in Warsaw is just one big clusterfuck. During out fire drill a couple of months ago, people were still using the elevators, and using it as an excuse to smoke in the stairwell. One person sprained their ankle from tripping, and falling down a flight of stairs.

beatroot said...

The Office is bang on - it was one of things I was laughing my head off about. There is a bit in one espisode where they have a drill and heave the girl in a wheel chair down one flight of stairs and just leave here there. It really was like that yesterday.

As far as a POlish version of the The Office - I have watched the British one with several POles and they think it is just cruel. Different sense of humour and histiry of comedy programs.

Damien Moran said...

I used to work in a 3-storey homeless shelter with 22 residents in Dublin city centre.

The fire alarm would often go off for a bizarre amount of reasons - some unknown, people smoking in rooms, deliberate arson attempts, the shite chef forgetting to take the chicken out of the oven as page 3 of The Star was too interesting, staff burning toast, etc.

When evacuations occured it was just as ridiculous as you have recounted here. There was only a fire escape on the ground level. So those who were drunk as monkeys as strung out on heroin didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of escaping.

I recall staff ,including myself, desperately trying to wake people up and get them to move their ass downstairs - but because they had a pretty good idea it was a false alarm they wouldn't budge.

So all too often we would just let them snore on. A recent report on homeless shelters in Dublin has scathed the inappropriacy of the buildings for housing people with such serious health issues. But nobody really gives a fuck - the cheaper the service it seems the better.

This reflects a widespread attitude in many societies, that 'if they burn alive then there will be one person less to bother me at the ATM machine or outside church.'

In our case, staff reported our own workplace to the fire safety officer. He, in turn, being the bollocks he is, passed the shelter as having sufficient procedures. Appears that homeless shelters are an exception to the evacuation staircase rule.

Public buildings that don't have adequate procedures, infrastructure to deal with the most vulnerable in cases of emergency should be improved through the concern of those employed, living there.

BR, idea - get an online petition going in your workplace that calls on boycotting the next fire drill, until your friend in the wheelchair has his needs addressed (there should be a stretcher available) and until such time as they get their fucking act together.

Very entertaining story yet also serious issue.

beatroot said...

It is good to see that it isn;t only in POland. Have you been to clubs in POland and noticed that there is no fire exit at all...and if there is, it is often blocked!

Belgian Atheist said...

The Office is bang on - it was one of things I was laughing my head off about. There is a bit in one espisode where they have a drill and heave the girl in a wheel chair down one flight of stairs and just leave here there. It really was like that yesterday.

That was indeed the episode I was thinking of, reading your post I could not believe that it was actually happening in real life.
Are there plans to accommodate disabled people better now?
Extra's is on Belgian TV now, it's not as good as The Office but Ricky Gervais is an absolute comic genius, just listened to his latest podcast in the car, the other people on the road must have thought I was a lunatic 'cause I was laughing so hard.

beatroot said...

He is funny, in a dark way.

I really do not know if they actually realized if it was so bad. Maybe, by their standards, it was rather good? Better than average? But I promise, every word is true...

Anonymous said...

I remember when I was working for the National Health Service in London ,staying in staff accommodation. The smoke alarms were always being triggered by nurses making toast in the kitchens on each floor.The firemen would turn up with 4 fire engines as per standard for public buildings and hospitals etc.

One night there was a real fire, when one of the cleaners by accident set fire to the curtains in her room(she liked candle light!) ,while she was preparing a meal in the kitchen along the corridor.

The fire service were so slow turning up that my colleagues along the corridor had to go under the smoke and bring out the cleaning lady and try to fight the fire with extinguishers-the fire service were not around as they thought it was burning toast again and were slow to respond, not believing it could be a real fire.
I can tell you,when you see the smoke coming towards you for real,you do not hang around! It ended up with three rooms on my floor totally burnt out and and the whole floor closed by smoke damage.


Cookmluv said...

It is good to see that it isn;t only in POland. Have you been to clubs in POland and noticed that there is no fire exit at all...and if there is, it is often blocked!