A Travellerspoint blog

Where's the Fire?

Sleepless In Omaha

30 °F

This week marked the start of my first, real project with my new company. My customer is headquarted in Omaha, Nebraska and while it isn't exactly a sexy city, it's a very short flight from Denver. I didn't think there would be anything interesting to blog about during this trip because, well...because it's Omaha.

The purpose for the trip was to conduct business process review meetings - all day affairs in which you sit in a room full of your customers and have them walk you through how they do business. Its even less exciting than it sounds and suprisingly exhausting. Its the type of thing for which you want to be well rested and on top of your game. This is where things veered off-course.

Actually the meetings had been going well and after a big team dinner Wednesday night, I was very ready for a good night's sleep. By 10 pm I was in bed and fairly relaxed, ready to fall asleep at any moment. About 10 minutes later the hotel's fire alarm sounded - a piercing, shrieking sound followed by a pre-recorded and unintelligable announcement. This wasn't the first time I've experienced this in a hotel but it still strikes an intial chord of panic in your chest. I quickly got out of bed, grabbed my purse and started to put some shoes on. But the siren didn't sound very long so I fiured it was a false alarm. A few minutes later, it went on again, blared for a few moments and then went off again. This is a pattern that repeated at least 6 times over the course of the next hour or so. Early on in this process I heard other people talking in the hallway so I popped my head out the door to find several other guests doing the same thing. The general concensus was that since the alarm wasn't on for very long, it must not be the real thing and therefore no one was evacuating. Much later in the process, after nearly falling asleep only to be jarred into a fully awake state again, I called the front desk. It went something like this:

Front Desk: Good Evening Ms. Karr
Me: Yes, I was calling about the fire alarms. I'm assuming they aren't real?
Front Desk: No, they aren't real. There's a short in the system and the fire department is here looking into it. We're sorry about the inconvenience.
Me: Ok, thanks. Any idea when it will done?
Front Desk: It should be soon.
Me: Ok, thanks.

I remember thinking that I didn't know the fire department looked into circuit problems with fire alarms but whatever made the darn thing stop going off was fine by me. I also hadn't realized that the fire department was even there.

Luckily that was the last time the siren went off and I feel asleep sometime before midnight. Only to be awakened at 4 am by the wretched fire alarm again. This time I just sat up in bed, not making any efforts at leaving, and cursing the faulty wiring. Except that although it did shut off quickly it sounded again right away. And then went off. And then went right back on. By now I could hear people in the hallway again so I went to check what the group thinking was this time. Imagine my complete shock to see smoke billowing half way down the hallway. I couldn't even see the other end. This started my heart in overdrive. I quickly put on a pair of boots and my coat over my pajamas (a very fetching look), grabbed my purse and left. As I stepped into the hallway a young woman in the room next door came out in a complete panic. "Oh, my gosh, there's smoke! Where do we go? How do we get out?" I was the poster child for calmness-in-an-emergency compared to her. I told her that there were stairs at the other end of the hallway, away from the smoke, and why don't we start going that direction now. We pass a man standing in his doorway, fully dressed and seemingly trying to decide whether he should leave. Apparently a smoke filled hallway wasn't a good enough indication for him. So we keep going, downstairs, outside and around towards the front of the building. This is about when I notice my evacuation partner is not wearing shoes, which I quickly point out. She said she was so panicked she didn't think to take shoes, but she did take the keys to her rental car - something I hadn't thought of. We get to the front of the building and no one is outside so we go into the lobby. There are only about half a dozen people there and no one at the front desk. Odd that so few people have left their rooms - I hadn't exactly taken my time but I didn't leave right away either.

The fire department showed up shortly after this and the Omaha fireman were all that you would hope they would be: young, handsome and carrying big hoses. I overheard the hotel manager telling them that there had been a fire in the laundry room earlier. Hmm....that is very interesting since the front desk had told me something completely different. Something that had made me almost not even leave my room at all because I assumed it was a false alarm.

By the time we were allowed to go back to our rooms only half an hour had passed and quite a few more people had showed up downstairs, although surely not all those that were in the hotel that night. During this time I spotted my colleague who had the presence of mind to get completely dressed. I also noticed that while all of the women took their purses with them when they evacuated, none of them took their laptops whereas several of the men did. I felt a little shamed in not having thought of it at all. I also saw one of our customers during this time who had flown in from the UK. A few years ago I would have been mortified to have anyone at all, much less the client, see me with no makeup and in pajamas. But now, eh, who cares? We're all people after all and it's not as if I'm going to find a date while escaping from a hotel fire. (This isn't a movie, after all.)

Unlike the other folks I knew staying there that night, I was not ale to fall back asleep and the next day was a little brutal. The official story from the hotel was that the 4 am alarm was due to someone spraying a fire extinguisher. I guess that could have been it but it really looked like smoke. They were also sticking to their faulty wiring story rather than the fire in the laundry room which makes me really question the fire extinguisher story.

So what did I learn?
- You should always know where the exits/stairwells are in your hotel.
- Make sure you can find a pair of shoes quickly in the middle of the night.
- Take your car keys so that you can wait in the car if you can't wait in the lobby, or go somewhere else entirely.
- The hotel staff may "spin" whatever actually happened.
- Most importantly, always leave your hotel room when the alarm goes off. I know I will from now on.

Posted by brendak 20:15 Tagged business_travel Comments (0)

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