Things I learnt in the fire

WHEN the emergency alarm sounded at 12.30am, I have to admit: my first instinct was to ignore it.

I once lived in an apartment complex with a fire alarm system that went off, unprompted, with frustrating regularity.

It usually happened in the middle of the night. After about a dozen pyjama-clad treks down six flights of stairs to congregate with sleepy neighbours on the sidewalk, even the firies were threatening to fine our building if any more phantom fire calls came through.


And so, last Saturday night when the impossibly loud fire alarm began blaring in our hotel room at the Intercontinental Sanctuary Cove, I thought it was a false alarm.

Curiosity, more than a real sense of danger, prompted me to poke my head out the front door to see what was going on.

Immediately, two staff members raced past my door… and into the room directly next to me. A blonde woman emerged, huffing and crossing her arms, complaining about her partner and referring vaguely to the sauna.

A staff member dashed inside quickly, coughing and spluttering on his return.

“Are you okay?” I said.

“Yeah I’m fine, it’s just really smoky in there,” he said. “We need you to evacuate, please. Now.”

My partner and I grabbed our kids and raced downstairs with a handful of other bleary-eyed hotel guests. Within half an hour, dozens more people trickled down to the pool area, where we waited while staff and emergency services contained the fire and cleared our rooms.

The staff were brilliant, trying to help young families and drunk wedding guests cope with the surreal situation. One waiter I spoke to said it was his first fire at the hotel, and he’d been working there seven years.

And in the four hours we waited to regain access to our room and collect our burnt-smelling clothes, I learnt a few things:

1. I am completely calm and rational in an emergency.
Calm, clear-minded, alert: I was all of these things, despite there being an actual real fire just metres from me and my family. I’m the person you want to be in an emergency, I’ve discovered.

2. I am also completely useless in an emergency.
That said, I remembered nothing. I didn’t put on shoes (for me or for my kids). I didn’t think to grab a nappy or bottle for my one-year-old. I didn’t even take my phone. Thankfully the lovely couple we met on the lawns (hi Gail and Rowan!) grabbed their baby bag on the way out the door, giving us vital access to an emergency nappy circa 3am.

3. Nothing good happens after midnight.
Flan from 102.9 Hot Tomato says this often. I’m starting to believe he may be right.

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