Thursday, November 03, 2005

Ring of Fire: The Next Generation

In just a few minutes, there will be an evacuation drill for my building. We have been told to go to the emergency stairwell, but not to actually go down the stairs. I am on the 23rd floor…the building is 40 floors tall. They started the drill at 9:00 am. People on the 40th floor go first; by the time they get to us it will be about 9:30 am…so they said. It is 9:31 am right now and we still have not been told to evacuate.

Evacuating from a high rise office building can be a challenge. Survivors of 9/11 and the earlier bombing of the World Trade Center have my utmost respect. Let me take you back in time to an earlier, more innocent time.

It was the morning of Friday, January 15, 1993 and I was working as a hearing officer for the Franklin County Child Support Enforcement Agency on the 18th floor of the County Courthouse building at 373 South High Street in Columbus, Ohio. My first hearing was scheduled for 9:00 am and I was wasting some time talking with the paralegals and attorneys in the litigation section. One of the litigators was in a lighthearted mood and was going around singing the chorus from old Johnny Cash song, “Ring of Fire.”

Then we heard the building’s PA system click on. The announcement was chilling: we were told that there was a major gas leak in the building and that we were to evacuate immediately…. “This is no drill.” I went straight to the stairwell, went down to my office on the 17th floor, got my coat, and headed for the emergency stairwell.

The stairwell was crowded with people fleeing the building. It was orderly, even after we started smelling gas. Pretty soon, the smell of the gas was overpowering…we held up handkerchiefs and scarves over our faces to block the smell. There was a lot of gallows humor about what would happen if there was a spark…not good!

We eventually made it outside. The fire department showed up and we waited around in the cold to find out what to do. We waited…and waited…and waited. The FCCSEA employees were told to go to the lobby of a nearby hotel for a briefing. We got there and were told to go home for the day.

Eventually, we learned that there was no gas leak. Somebody had sprayed a chemical called mercaptan in the building…this is the chemical used to give the odor to natural gas. Apparently, all it took was a few drops of the chemical in order to make the entire building smell like their was a major gas leak.

So, we got the Friday off. Better yet, Monday was a holiday…so we had a FOUR day weekend! Woo hoo!

The drill is history now.

The alarm went off. We were instructed to close our office doors, make our way to the nearest fire exit, and go down one flight of stairs…and wait in the stairwell till the all clear was given. That was exciting…NOT!


Post a Comment

<< Home