September 11, 2013

ELIOT: Duffield Disco Inferno

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If you’re like me, you may have found yourself in the Duffield atrium on Monday morning (side note: I’m actually there all the time — not just Monday mornings. Autographs are free; pictures are $5). It started off like basically every other morning in Club Duff: All the alcoves had been occupied since the rooster’s first crow, the Mattin’s staff was exceptionally friendly and efficient and the engineers were busy discussing technical concepts that are way over most people’s heads (read: my head). Around 11AM though, something slightly unusual happened: The fire alarm went off.

If you’ve never been in Duffield during a “fire drill,” they’re pretty peculiar events. A bunch of fire alarms go off and start flashing brightly and buzzing loudly. They do this to alert everyone in the area that there is potentially a fire threatening to burn down the building. I know this probably sounds like a pretty standard fire drill. What is different about a Duffield fire drill, however, is that when the alarm goes off (in a building that has several labs with gas lines and stuff — you know, those things that blow up when fire is around) nobody moves. I don’t mean that people slowly pack up their things and start moseying towards the nearest exit. I don’t even mean that kids say to themselves, “OK. That is a fire alarm. I will finish the problem I’m currently working on and then pack up my things before escaping what could be a large building about to collapse.” No. Rather, everyone just carries on with their lives as if they have never seen the movie Backdraft.

Why does nobody leave? Maybe they think that it is just a drill and they can handle some background buzzing as they work on their Algorithms homework. Maybe they think the building is made of stone and glass, and for some reason, it will hold up to a violent gas explosion. Maybe they really do have as much work as they complain about (they do) and they can’t afford to spare a few minutes to step outside for the first and maybe only time that day. Or maybe they think that dying in a beautiful conflagration on the engineering quad is a better alternative to not finishing that lab report (and nobody in the group can meet at any other time anyway).

Club Duff didn’t burn down on Monday morning, which I think is a good thing. But it got me thinking … about fires and stuff. This “alarm who cried fire” syndrome is putting the lives of students at risk. Pretend there had been a fire in Duffield Monday morning. That would have been somewhat less than ideal. Dozens of kids would have sat oblivious to the flames tearing through the building.  And why should the engineers feel the need to move when 99 times out of 100, responding to a fire alarm is nothing more than an inconvenient detour outside before returning to exactly the same place you were before. At least in a Chinese Fire Drill, you switch seats.

But if you have ever lived or now live on North Campus, then you have seen the other end of the spectrum — taking the threat of fire a little too seriously. Maybe it is just because I subscribe to the “live free or die” mantra (shout out to New Hampshire), but it seems to me like the fire marshall really enjoys encroaching on my personal freedoms. If I want to draw all of my power from a single outlet using a complicated network of surge protectors and extension cords, then that is my prerogative, and it is none of his or her business. I should be able to hang my posters on my spider lamp if I feel so inclined. Paul Revere’s midnight ride wasn’t made with the thought of fire inspections in mind. Rather it was made with quite the opposite intention: freedom from America’s proverbial fire marshall — King George III.

Moreover, I am not a fire hazard. Ever. On more than one occasion, I have been sitting down on the ground in a hallway and been told by some sort of authority figure that I need to move because I am “a fire hazard.” I think what these people are suggesting is not that I am a hazard because I might burst into flames at any given moment (I won’t), but rather that I will be in people’s way in the event of a fire. The funny thing is that if there is a fire, I am going to move — I also don’t want to be trapped in a fire. Have a little faith in people; I imagine most of them feel the same way. Unless a person covers themselves in petroleum jelly, I am not comfortable calling anyone a “fire hazard” (except you, girl who sits behind me in statistics class).

Overall, I am happy that every day I go to class, learn, and the building I’m in doesn’t burn down. The apathy that we treat fire alarms with is itself alarming. If you aren’t convinced that the danger is real, watch Backdraft or the FX show, Rescue Me (the writers will be so happy that someone actually watched). Fires are scary. A little less scary than the prospect of dying alone or a giant llama with a laser beam on its head (you know… standard fears), but scary enough that we can all afford to step outside when that alarm goes off next time. More importantly though, it’s my own damn business where and how I hang my posters. 10 inches from the ceiling isn’t going to be the end of the world.