2 Wrong Ways to Evacuate

By: | December 10, 2014 | Tags: , , , , |

My students are learning that at the beginning of the Middle Ages, China was very violent.  Kings fought with neighboring kings, and farm owners fought with their neighbors as well–not a friendly time.  Simulations are encouraged in education since acting as the historical characters we study is far more memorable than just reading about them in books.

In conjunction with that philosophy, I tell my students that the rows in my classroom will represent farms.  If students (the Chinese peasants) leave notes on my desk challenging other rows, the attack commences as follows.  The attacking “farm owner” and the defending “farm owner” will each roll a die; the higher roll wins.  I tell the losing row that they must quickly vacate their “farms”.  The enemy farm owner will have sent peasants with torches.  Their “farms” are on fire, their huts have been burned, and they must flee (move for the duration of the next activity).

While conducting the activity this morning, several incidents came to mind in which my family actually had to flee out of fear for their lives, or so they thought.

The first incident occurred when I was a young teen living with my single mother and younger brother.  On Saturday mornings, we slept in.  We are night people, so we tend to stay up late on the weekends and wake late the next morning.

Deep in this slumber, I was awakened by a phone call I had trouble understanding.  A neighbor was on the phone.  Apartment dwellers could just knock if they chose, at least we were friendly enough with our neighbors that they could where we lived.  However, our neighbor was calling from a location outside the apartment building.  It was cold, it was early, and cell phones had not been invented yet, so someone had gone to trouble to call us.

What had been unintelligible in my sleepy state became all too clear.  Apparently, our apartment building was on fire, and everyone in the building had evacuated but us.  As they quickly fled, our neighbors tried to knock, but apparently we were in too deep a sleep to hear them.

I threw on my bathrobe and woke my mother and brother.  “Come on, let’s go, our apartment building is on fire,” I insisted.  However, no one was following me.  My mother had taken out large suitcases, had proceeded to remove our paintings from the walls, and was trying to pack them.  No clothes, no money, no food, just paintings were being put into our suitcases.  My ten-year-old brother was helping her remove heavily-framed paintings from the wall.  Neither of them was evacuating.  I urged my mother to leave, but she insisted she wouldn’t leave without her paintings.

I didn’t know what to do.  I was too young to die!  Rumor had it that being burned alive in a fire is not pleasant.  I had a choice: stay with my mom and brother or evacuate all by myself.  I chose the former, and here I am to tell about it.  By the time my mother had all the paintings packed in suitcases, the fire department had extinguished the flames, and the residents were starting to return to our building.

Hayley Cruise Photo

When Hayley was on a cruise ship, she thought she had to evacuate to the life boat!

When I was an adult and had teenage children of my own, my husband and I took two of our daughters on a cruise.  While in port, we left them sleeping in the room.  Often, when the cruise ship is stationary, the crew has drills as it did this day.  The alarms started sounding.  Unlike her sound-asleep mother was at the age of thirteen, Hayley was awakened by the alarms.  She woke her younger sister Rachel, and proclaimed that the ship was sinking.  Instead of grabbing her life jacket and vacating the room, Hayley, like my mother years before, refused to leave.  Hayley insisted she couldn’t evacuate without mascara.  Rachel, not wanting to leave her sister, watched as Hayley applied the makeup.  After the coats of mascara were applied, the girls finally realized it was just a drill; the ship was stationary and not going down.

That brings us to my title, 2 Wrong Ways to Evacuate.  Readers, when believing they had to flee, my mother tried to take her paintings, and Hayley tried to apply mascara.  What is the right way to evacuate?  What would you take with you?  What would be the first item you would grab?  I look forward to your views.

  1. Kristen from The Road to Domestication

    This is a very thought-provoking post! I would make sure my husband, dog and cat were out, and then I would grab my portable hard drive, since it has EVERYTHING on it. That would take care of all the important documents and photos, etc. If I had time at that point, I would grab the trunk that holds all of my grandmother’s photos, too. At that point, I think I’d be feeling good at what I was able to get a hold of!

    • Janice Wald

      Hi Kristen,
      I’ve visited your site before. Thank you for the compliment. It sounds like I may be inspiring people to get plans, so this is rewarding for me. Every thing important on my laptop I put in my Dropbox on the Internet, so I’d probably get my family members and dogs and my purse. Maybe warm clothes.

  2. Ashley Gulla

    If my apartment building was on fire the most important things I would not leave without would be: my two kids (obviously), my two dogs (again, another obvious choice), my two cats (which would be more challenging than the kids and dogs) and my laptop. I’m pretty certain everything else I could live without. I would have my daughter take my laptop and one dog. My son is too small to carry anything. My other dog and two cats would be very hard for me. This makes me think I need to get a plan in order just in case something does happen!

    • Janice Wald

      It would make me feel good if I motivated your family to have a plan. You never know when you might need one. How old is your little boy?

  3. knottymarie

    A few years ago one of the apartment buildings just 2 buildings away from me in my complex caught fire. I did not realize what was going on until I heard someone on my porch – it was a tv reporter doing a news story. That’s when I noticed the 7 firetrucks in the parking lot. Lots of lights, What would I take if I needed to evacuate in a hurry? I keep important documents handy, and of course I would take bank cards and my purse. I’d have to remember shoes though.. I rarely wear shoes, so I forget.

    • Janice Wald

      Are you in a warm weather climate that you rarely wear shoes? I always wear flats; I love boots in the fall and winter, and even spring.
      I’d remember my purse, my family members and dogs (not in that order, LOL), I’d probably forget important documents. Once upon a time I heard to bring photos, but today mine are on Dropbox and Facebook.

      • knottymarie

        I live in the Pacific Northwest. But I have worked from home for the past 7 years.

  4. Susan

    Given that I live in a high fire danger area I have experienced the potential for flames to consume my home on numerous occasions. The first time I saw flames on a nearby hill while driving home with my young son…I just continued driving out of the area for concern about our safety. Another time when fires were raging I intently listened to the local news which gave out potential evacuation reports that evening. Since we live in a state known for earthquakes I always have emergency supplies in my car which include extra changes of clothing so that was already done. The family got jackets on, I got my invalid father dressed in sweats in two minutes (a record), scooped up pets with harnesses along with a box for our turtle, put my family’s most important documents as well as photo albums/portraits into two bins, loaded up everybody and everything into two cars. Then we waited for the final call to evacuate. The fire department using bull horns told us and all of the other cars line along the street and in driveways facing the direction of safety to get ready to move. In the meantime a dear friend whose husband is a Boy Scout leader readied their home with cots and such to receive 7 of us plus our three pets. Their kindness was the bright spot in the rush to avoid tragedy. We could still see flames in the distance but the next time the fire trucks came by was to tell us the evacuation was called off as the fire shifted direction away from us. When up against potential disaster one is faced with what is the most important things in life. That’s the key “life.” All the rest is just stuff.

    • Janice Wald

      Wow! Scary times! That was nice of your neighbor whose husband is a Boy Scout to prepare to house you all. It’s the true meaning of community. Glad you’re all okay.
      Janice

  5. Joan Harrington

    Hi Janice,

    Enjoyed your post on the 2 wrong ways to evacuate 🙂 This subject of evacuation is important as it brings to mind the things and the people that are so precious to me if I ever had to evacuate from any place…..my kids and my cats are my #1 priority then I would definately want to take all of the baby photos and memories of my kids childhood……all that I could get my hands on……that is about it 🙂

    Great thought-provoking post! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Janice Wald

      Thanks. It’s interesting to hear what people would bring with them if they had to leave in a hurry. I retweeted your Twitter post tonight.

  6. DebraBlock

    My mom brought her conteseptive, wiglet and photo alum. I would bring my wedding alum and scrapbooks. Debra Glock

    • Janice Wald

      Hi Debbie,
      How great, again, to see you here! How fun too! Contraceptive? That’s funny! I agree with you since photos are irreplaceable.
      Janice

  7. Bella Silverstein

    Firstly, great post, very timely. Secondly, what a creative lesson plan you invented! You remind me of the best of the best teachers mentioned in Alfie Kohn’s excellent book, “The Schools Our Children Deserve.” Thirdly, I’m reminded of a very odd question posed by my Shakespeare professor in college. She once asked the class: If you were visiting the Louvre in Paris and it caught fire, and you were alone with the Mona Lisa and a child and could only save one, which would you choose? I thought it a very stupid question, with only one possible and extremely obvious answer. After all, paintings are man-made objects that feel no pain, produce no progeny and leave behind no grieving family. I was amazed to hear not only my classmates, but the professor as well, ponder this “dilemma” out loud and at length, long and hard, as if there were something deep to think about. I was shocked. It was my first experience with moral relativism, and the almost unbelievable differences in the way people think. But getting back to your question, the only non-humans I’d try to save in an emergency are my pets.

    • Janice Wald

      I agree; I’m not going anywhere without my family members and dogs. I was told you’re supposed to grab your cash and your photos. Cash you’ll need and photos are irreplaceable. Read the post I just wrote tonight on “How To Embrace Nature,” and let me know what you think. Thanks.

  8. Christine Gallagher

    In a hurry I would grab my kids and go, everything else can be replaced and the safety of your family is the most important.

    • Janice Wald

      Hi Christine,
      My mother actually read the post and thought she looked bad, but she laughed it off, and so did I. We actually all remember the apartment fire with great humor. Thankfully, we can.

  9. carla

    I think I would wake my children and grab shoes and atleast a coat or blanket and my pet tortoise. I don’t think I would worry about much except making sure my loved ones were safe!

  10. Michelle

    Years ago when I lived in an apartment, there was a fire in the middle of the night. I remember people yelling outside the window. When I woke up enough to figure out what was going on, I grabbed my cat and pocket book which was right there and got out as quick as I could.

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