Yesterday an unexpected diversion at work: a fire drill.

This theoretically consists of an initial "alert tone" alarm, whereupon John, our cheerful floor warden, dons his yellow hard hat and stands by the emergency intercom and awaits instructions, followed by an evacuation tone, whereupon we calmly walk to the designated fire exit, walk down the stairs out of the building to the nearby gardens and gather.

So what happened in practice? Well the initial alarm went off, and John our cheerful floor warden sprinted off to the intercom (sans yellow hard hat). Some of my cunning workmates decided that this meant an evacuation was imminent, and decided that they couldn’t be bothered walking down twenty-eight floors, so they went and jammed themselves into the lifts (with all the other people who had had the same idea), which were still running at that point, and went and got a coffee.

The rest of us stayed put, deciding to keep in the spirit of things, thinking that either it was a false alarm, in which case we could just get on with our work (of which there was plenty), or a drill, in which case it wouldn’t hurt at all to practice evacuating the building, so that we knew the procedure well, and so that the building emergency people would have a better idea of how it would all run in a real emergency.

Of course, we didn’t know exactly what was going on. With theevents in the world the last few years, you never know – it could be for real. But that was something we tried not to think about.

So we waited for either John our floor warden to let us know what we should do, or for an evacuation signal to sound. For quite a few minutes, neither came, and one bloke talking on the phone to a colleague on another floor reckoned we should be getting out. Uhh yeah that’s a good idea – just evacuate without being told to. Not sure I like that as a concept, running blindly.

Finally John, now complete with his yellow hard hat re-appeared and told us to evacuate via one of the emergency staircases. We did so, and wondering why no evacuation signal had sounded on our floor, began trudging down the twenty-eight floors to the ground floor.

Twenty-eight floors. It’s a long way down. Down and down and round and round. It takes long enough to do it in the express lift, let alone the stairs.

But each floor goes pretty fast, and while we were cursing our wimpy colleagues who had escaped in the lift, at least we were getting exercise. It took about fifteen minutes to reach ground level, the stairs full of people by then. But calm, cheerful people for the most part. We all piled over into the gardens, found our floor groups and stood chatting in the sunshine for about half an hour while more people continued to stream out of the building. Our wimpy colleagues, still clutching their coffees, found us in the gardens.

Eventually just before lunchtime the all clear was given, and we all headed back. Yes, it was just a drill. There wasn’t a fire. There wasn’t a suspicious package. No gas leak (though there was a suspect smell coming from someone’s long-forgotten food in the 28th floor fridge). The building didn’t fall down. None of the accountants on the 41st floor tragically fell to their deaths. Hopefully the people running the show got a good idea of how well things would go in a real emergency.

As for me, I discovered how long it takes to evacuate the building. I got to get away from my desk for about an hour. I got a good aerobic workout, and to get out into the fresh air and the sunshine. And all on company time. So I’m not complaining.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.