You’re fired

My work has gone fire safety crazy recently. I’m one of the few people on my floor who’s usually at their desk rather than in the lab or off doing whatever it is that PIs do when they’re not in their offices, so I get to be a floor warden! Yay! Lucky me. We’ve had all kinds of videos and lectures and I’ve been given a lovely red hard hat, with an attractive orange vest on the way. It might be worth it though; there’s a rumour that our next training will resemble the standard method my PhD institute used in Glasgow, i.e. going out to the parking lot and setting fire to bins full of paper and big trays of petrol, and learning how to put them out.
We had a full building evacuation fire drill yesterday. It went remarkably smoothly; we got out and declared our floor “clear” to the head honcho within about three minutes. It helped that they’d given everyone lots of warning about a 10.30 fire drill, and that most people went for coffee at 10.25. (They missed out on the free candy the safety team handed out though, so who are the smart ones, eh?)
At the debriefing, we were told that the next drill will be unannounced (that’ll go down well with people doing tissue culture and animal work). Not only that, but they’ll enlist students as actors who will pretend to sprain an ankle on the stairs, or to pass out behind a filing cabinet or in another inaccessible location.
My first thought was that our next drill might resemble this classic clip from the US version of The Office:

But actually, all previous evacuations (in our institution’s old building – two storeys rather than the current fifteen) went very well indeed. We had two chemical spills within about six months, and both times everyone proceeded calmly to the exits with a minimum of absolutely no running, stampeding, trampling, or screaming. It took forever for the HazMat team to give us the all-clear, but luckily enough people had coffee money with them that we didn’t suffer unduly.
We responded to our only actual fire a little too calmly. I came out of the office area at about 6.30 pm one evening to find a blue haze in the corridor. As I was wondering what it was, a PI came out of the nearest door saying “I think my lab might be on fire”. I told him I thought he might be right. He said he’d go and see who else was in the lab area, and could I please go and tell everyone in the office that they might want to leave?
I trotted off obediently and had already advised two people to leave before I thought of pulling the fire alarm (one of the students beat me to it, which was quite disappointing actually). There were very few people around, and we stood outside laughing at ourselves as we waited for the firemen. The blaze turned out to be a self-contained, self-limiting electrical fire that was probably already out by the time we noticed it.
But those scary videos they keep showing us of a Christmas tree light turning a whole room into an inferno within a couple of minutes make me think that I might respond a little more urgently next time.

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
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17 Responses to You’re fired

  1. Richard Wintle says:

    Ah, dear old Occupational Health & Safety.
    I did my postdoc training in a psychiatric hospital, where the pull stations were key-activated (presumably to cut down on the number of false alarms – the building was full of paranoid schizophrenics, after all). In order to obtain such a key, employees had to undergo the dreaded DUM DUM DAAAAAAH fire safety training.
    All I remember about it was a video screen, at more or less knee-level, with flames projected on it. We had to wave a fire extinguisher around in an appropriate swooshing motion to demonstrate that we understood how to use it.
    In my three years there, the only major problem I encountered was when a water pipe burst on an upper floor, flooding a stairwell and dripping water through the light fixtures in the lab, six floors down. No fires, fortunately.

  2. Richard Wintle says:

    been given a lovely red hard hat, with an attractive orange vest on the way
    This comment useless without photos. 🙂

  3. Cath Ennis says:

    Oh, putting out real fires is much more fun!
    You will get a photo when someone brings me the hot lemon and honey I requested in my last post. I’m still waiting, damnit!

  4. Kyrsten Jensen says:

    tissue culture work? Try getting stuck in BSL3 conditions when the fire alarms going off and there was an ACTUAL fire in the building. We had a safety warden just for our lab, and during any drill, he would come and wait outside the window in the main hallway outside our lab and let us know by interphone if it was okay or not. The problem was that one morning, I decided to run several experiements in both labs (main and BSL3) so I came in at 7 am to start my cultures in the BSL3. Halfway through getting the cultures inoculated, the fire alarm went off. Well, our safety man wasn’t in yet – but thankfully, he was on his way (and yes, we had a backup safety warden who was responsible for the whole building and was there at the time). But I quickly took care of anything i needed to, took the requisite long shower, and then wandered outside. Because it took so long to get out and I knew there wasn’t much of a hurry (I had phoned the warden(s) and they let me know the fire was in a whole another part of the building complex and not to worry too much), I was passing by firemen on the way out and getting strange looks from those who had evacuated without knowing where the fire was. It was kinda handy to have the “in the know” people on my side for that one!

  5. Darren Saunders says:

    I don’t know that all evacuations run smoothly Cath. The only time I’ve been here for an actual alarm and evacuation, I saw at least 2 loads of people take the lift down rather than the fire stairs. Doesn’t say much for the common sense of a building full of supposedly edumacated people does it?
    I thought it was a nice example of natural selection by fire 😉

  6. Cath Ennis says:

    Ah, but that was before they gave me the red hat. Next time, you will respect my authoritah!
    (They told us that people are much more likely to listen to your instructions if you wear the hat and vest. I’m tempted to wear mine all the time).
    Kyrsten, another excellent tale from the BSL3! I’m glad they had good procedures in place for you. I assume the suite had good solid fire doors and sprinklers? And at least you had a shower to hide in…

  7. Sabbi Lall says:

    Second request for photo of you in hard hat! I’m sure you’ll be first at the alarm next time!

  8. Eva Amsen says:

    I love that clip of the Office. Best opening ever. I laughed all over again. I forgot about Dwight’s PowerPoint comment, and about Kevin breaking the glass of the candy machine, and “the fire is shooting at us!!”.
    I had to take fire safety training as part of an undergrad organic chem lab, and the fire department taught us how to put out real fires in the parking lot! It was fun! But not as much fun as the week long radioactivity training, that ended with a “find the five radioactive spills and clean them up appropriately” assignment (and a written, national exam and official certificate to prove that I can use radioactivity in any licensed facility in Holland (but this certificate is useless anywhere else in the world and I had to take the half-a-day radioactivity class in Toronto all over again, in which I laughed at their outdated methods and unsafe practices. (Acknowledge my papers, Canada! A taped-off area on someone’s lab bench is SO not an appropriate place for radioactivity work…)
    Anyway. Hat pictures please!

  9. Richard Wintle says:

    Eva – in my first-ever research job, I did lots of tritium work in a taped-off area of a bench.

  10. Eva Amsen says:

    Well, that explains a lot.

  11. Cath Ennis says:

    gets you

    Eva, I taped that episode for my husband, and won’t let him delete it now. I must have re-watched that opening scene about 5 times in a row after the episode ended, and laughed like a drain every time! The cat in the filing cabinet was what really cracked me up…
    I hated working with radioactivity and took all the training courses etc. very seriously. It sucks that they wouldn’t recognise such an extensive course in Canada.

  12. Sabbi Lall says:

    No fair- how can I bring you honey and lemon? I’ll be passing through Vancouver in just over a week, but you’ll be better by then I hope! Will this recipe for Hot and Sour do instead?
    Do you mind posting a URL for the Office clip (my browser can’t see the video?). Thanks!

  13. Cath Ennis says:

    “Here ya go”
    Two of the people who commented on this thread were in a position to bring me lemon and honey yesterday, but didn’t. Boooooo 😉 So you can blame them…
    Hopefully I won’t need it by next week! How long are you in town for?

  14. Kyrsten Jensen says:

    sorry I was too busy getting filmed for the local NEWS 😛 and I didn’t see this post until too late in the day…
    I could deliver monday 🙂

  15. Cath Ennis says:

    If I’m in! (50-50 right now, this is the worst cold I’ve had in years)

  16. Sabbi Lall says:

    I hope your next drill won’t let the cat out of the bag that way (that was hilarious, cheers!). Unfortunately I’m only passing through Vancouver transiting to Victoria :o(
    Kyrsten to the rescue though (thanks Kyrsten!)

  17. Richard Wintle says:

    Cath – I’d send you some lemon and honey via Canada Post, but, well, you know.

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