Fire Drills & the Other Secrets I Always Knew

"Just so everyone knows today we're having a fire drill. Everyone needs to exit the office, we will all meet at the end of the street and do a head-count there" announced a co-worker. She came over to my desk, crouched down and whispered to me,

"Sandy, the fire department has instructed me to let you know that you should just wait by the entrance - at the top of the staircase in the front lobby. Don't use the elevator." 

Fire drills. From Kindergarten till the 12th grade I always knew when they'd happen at least an hour in advance. The protocols varied from exiting the wheelchair-accessible entrance of the school, waiting for the vice principal to carry me down the stairs, to meeting at the nurse's office and exiting the school with her. Regardless of which route I took I was always safe, properly notified and always knew in advance.

"Alright, pop quiz today!" My sixth grade math teacher announced. The class groaned.  
"It might get interrupted because Sandy says we're going to have a fire drill!" Hollered one of my friends from the back of the room. I glared at him, it wasn't something he was supposed to go ahead and share with everyone else. I thought that was un-stated-11-year-old-best-friend policy. From across the classroom my aide looked at me and shook her head disapprovingly, I just shrugged my shoulders. 
But it was true! That morning before I headed to my homeroom the vice principal Mr. V had folded his seemingly 100ft body down to my level and whispered in my ear, "we're going to have a fire drill today." For the rest of the day I was antsy, ready to yank out my hearing-aids at the first blast of the alarm, excited to interrupt the mundane middle school day with at least 10 minutes of time outside to socialize with my friends and the rest of my grade. 
My middle school had multiple floors and elevator access to each one. Administrators had access to my schedule and a part of the fire drill protocol included knowing where I was at that exact moment of the day. If I was on the first floor I would exit with the rest of my class, if I were on any of the other floors my job was to park my wheelchair next to the stairwell and wait for Mr. V. He would come running up, scoop me up with one arm under my legs and the other around my back, and I would then be placed into a manual wheelchair that the school stored in the nurse's office. All of these transitions were always practiced at the start of the school year. The timing, precision, and technique of carrying me (with and without a cast) were run through; usually my physical therapist or my parents were there to supervise the transitions, each year running through the routine to maximize safety and efficiency. 

In high school I didn't have an aide and had a walkie-talkie instead. The walkie-talkie meant that I was literally tuned into many other goings-on around the school; many things that I am not sure I was really supposed to know about, and probably would get into some trouble for if I wrote about them here. Sorry! But each morning I would pick-up my side of the walkie-talkie from the nurse's office, and of course it always helped that the nurse was married to the Captain of the town fire department. She would inform me of the time we would expect to have the drill, and I would let her know what class I had and where it was in the school (though they also had a copy of my schedule as well). Now that I was older though I wouldn't tell my friends about the drill unless we had a test in that class, or if we were expected to present projects in front of the class. In high school, it just wasn't really all that "cool" to be in-the-know of whether or not there was going to be a drill. No teenager likes to wait in the freezing cold at 7:40AM (because our first class began at 7:33AM, god I SO don't miss those days!), but if it was particularly cold I would let my friends know that maybe they should keep their jackets on for a bit... 
One year, I had AP US History and the class was on the second floor in the library wing of the school. This part of the school is tucked in the back and nowhere near the front entrance, it was also nowhere near the nurse's office. To make matters worse I had also forgotten to pick-up my walkie-talkie that morning. My teacher for this class, an engaging and brilliant man in the matters of US History - but not so much in the matters of student-emergencies:

"Oh no, Sandy!! What should I do? Should I carry you down the stairs? You can't use the elevator right?" Mr. B proclaimed. I was parked at the top of the stair case at the library - totally cool, calm and collected. But the second the alarm had gone off I had cursed myself for forgetting to pick-up the walkie-talkie.
"It's fine. I'll be fine Mr. B. It's okay, you can go down with the rest of the class --" by then the rest of the class had already trooped down stairs and was outside. I felt a little guilty that I was the only one in the library with my teacher. 
"Are you sure? Maybe I should wait with you. Who are we waiting for exactly?" He asked.
"The nurse. She knows where I am because she has my schedule. She'll be coming soon, I'm sure." I responded as calmly as possible. It occurred to me that Mr. B was one of those teachers who fed off of his students' energy and nervousness, particularly in unfamiliar territory. 
"Okay, well, I'm going to phone down to the main office just to be sure.." Mr. B called down and was reassured that the nurse was indeed on her way, that this was not in fact a real fire, and he could leave to join the rest of the 18 other students outside. 
Soon enough the nurse did come up the staircase, chastised me for not picking up the walkie-talkie and then sent me back inside the still-empty classroom to read. 

All in all my experiences with fire drills in the world of k-12 were relatively calm and no-fuss. The protocol for drill procedures were always practiced and always recorded somewhere in my files (IEP or 504 plan). I was never worried about school officials dropping me or any other dangers. It seemed to me that because teachers and administrators always included me in the development of these routines I was always okay with them. In high school my access to the walkie-talkie tuned me into other emergencies like someone's dumb idea of a bomb scare, who had put ex-lax in a history teacher's water bottle, why classrooms were suddenly re-located. 
When I went to college my fire drill procedures were flexed out a bit; since I could be anywhere on campus, in any of the hundreds of elevators available to me, or I could NOT be anywhere (what if I decided to skip lecture the day there was a drill??)... how did the authorities keep track of me? Easy. I had a walkie-talkie that was connected with campus security. Not only did I know when there would be a fire drill that day, but I also knew if someone was getting arrested, if someone was going to the hospital, or if a student had locked herself out .. again. And to be honest, I got so comfortable that I rarely ever carried the walkie-talkie with me - most of the time it was just left sitting in my dorm room, on top of a bookshelf in its charging dock. 

But it's always good to be prepared, right? 

Posted in , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. RSS feed for this post.

Leave a Reply

Copyright © 2011 Perfectly Imperfecta. Powered by Blogger.