Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By Karla Pomeroy
Editor 

Karla's Kolumn: Is it a false alarm?

When is a fire alarm just a drill? The answer to that more than likely is only when you are a student in school. Unless of course your company has drills. But if you are in a store or public event and a fire alarm goes off, you can be assured it is not a drill.

 

February 3, 2018



When is a fire alarm just a drill? The answer to that more than likely is only when you are a student in school. Unless of course your company has drills. But if you are in a store or public event and a fire alarm goes off, you can be assured it is not a drill.

So how do you know if it is a false alarm or not? You don’t and you shouldn’t guess. But guess is what patrons at Washakie Museum and Cultural Center did Thursday at the opening reception for their newest temporary exhibits. Just about the time the entertainment was to begin the fire alarms sounded. I like many of the patrons were in the back gallery checking out “The Power of Children” exhibit. I was as guilty as the majority of the other patrons. I stared at the alarm thinking I don’t smell smoke, I did smell chili, which was on the menu.

One woman remarked, “You’re supposed to treat them as if they are real.” I mentioned that to the firefighters later (who responded when the alarm went off and a sensor in the kitchen had set off the alarm). Chief Chris Kocher and Captain Brandon Yule remarked, it was a real alarm. It was not a false alarm. A false alarm, at least in my mind, would be someone accidentally tripping the alarm, or someone playing a prank and pulling the alarm.

So the answer for everyone should have been the fire alarm is going off let’s evacuate. Eventually everyone did exit the building but then apparently, according to Kocher, someone had silenced the alarm which for some people they felt that meant the all clear.

Wrong again. The all clear should have come from the fire department. Now, all this being said, while the fire alarm was real, there was no actual fire with flames, which was fortunate.

But the incident brings to light how as adults we seem immune or apathetic when alarms go off. There was no sense of urgency for any of the patrons despite museum personnel trying to usher people outside. People got their coats and loitered in the lobby, not wanting to go stand out in the cold.

It’s not like in the movies when an alarm goes off and the building is immediately full of smoke and you see flames. Fire alarms or smoke detectors can go off when the danger is hidden.

Adults are also apathetic when it comes to the “emergency broadcast system testing” on the radio or television. We usually mute the TV or turn the channel until the noise dissipates. Now usually we do realize “this is a test, only a test” before totally ignoring it.

But Chief Kocher is correct in that the youth in the community do well when they hear alarms. It is ingrained in them through drills and exercises and the educational programs from the fire department. But it appears we reach a certain age and assume we know more than the fire alarm system, or perhaps we figure we can get out quickly enough when we actually see danger. Perhaps it is a ‘we have to see it to believe it’ attitude that children don’t usually have.

When I was visiting with Chief Kocher and Capt. Yule they mentioned there are numerous videos across the country of adults ignoring fire alarms even when the rooms or stores are filled with smoke. One viral video shows a woman going through Wal-Mart, hunched over pushing her cart and continuing to shop while smoke fills the store.

Tests and exercises are meant to help us be prepared when the real thing occurs. They are not meant to make us think everything is a test no matter where you are at the time.

So yes, we should treat each fire or emergency alarm as if it is real, because unless you know for certain otherwise (either you pulled the alarm just for fun or you set up the drill), it is a real alarm and safety should always come first.

 
 

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