Tuesday August 26th ~ York, England
I thought long and hard about sharing this story, but perhaps it will do more good than harm. At least that is my hope…
We were awakened in the middle of the night (Sunday night/Monday morning) with the fire alarm over our head blaring. You may recall that this has happened several times already on this journey, and each time it has been a false alarm or prank which has mostly gone ignored by all.
This time was different…
People got dressed, pulled on warm jackets, and in an orderly manner as directed by someone with a fluorescent yellow vest on each floor, walked calmly down flights of steps to the open street below.
Two fire trucks were already on the scene by the time Tim and I made it to the opposite curb. We gathered en masse and watched as two more trucks arrived. No smoke was billowing, no flames were seen. Just a loud, ongoing alarm.
There was a light, misty rain in the cool night air.
And then about 15-20 minutes later, just as good conversations were being developed with total strangers on the street, the all clear and an OK was given for us to return to our room.
I had a hard time getting back to sleep and a couple of hours later finally drifted back to dreamland…
In the morning we found a note had been slipped under our door from the hotel management. It read:
Thank you for your co-operation and efficiency in evacuating the hotel last night.
In a building of this size and nature, a fire detection system is an obvious necessity and is there for your safety and security of all our guests and team members. Whilst being evacuated is an inconvenience, we are sure you will agree that it is necessary to ensure there is no risk to the safety of our guests and team members.
Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience caused by our fire alarm and subsequent evacuation. If you have any comments please make our reception team aware on departure.
Tim and I talked about how we had gotten complacent about the fire alarms after so many “false alarms”, kind of like crying wolf. And yet, we acknowledged the importance of staying safe, being aware of where the emergency exits are located, the route to the stairways, and checking to see if the alarm system is there and functioning.
When staying in so many different hotels as well as a few private residence, this becomes even more critical to be aware of our surroundings. Waking up from a deep slumber, in a strange or different environment, is in itself disorienting, especially when a loud alarm is the cause.
Fast forward to early Tuesday morning.
I wake up this morning around 7 ish, and as is my norm, I grabbed my iPad to check for messages. Seeing a text from our son, asking if we are awake catches my attention. He has some devastating news to share. Our business manager, Kiyoshi, who has become like a son to us and a brother to Dane has lost his sister.
Here the irony becomes too much. She died in her sleep of smoke inhalation. And from what we are piecing together, it happened at almost exactly the same time as we were evacuating from our hotel the night before.
Kiyoshi’s sister lived in Brazil. They did not have smoke detectors. The building next door caught on fire. She died in her sleep. A smoke alarm probably would have saved her life. The funeral service is today.
Tim had a long phone conversation with both Dane and Kiyoshi to offer our condolences and determine if we should fly home. For now, neither of them want us to do that, but we have left the door open that we will immediately jump on an airplane if needed.
My heart is heavy as I write this, knowing that Kiyoshi, his parents and his remaining sister will each grieve in their own way and wishing there was something we could do that would ease their pain.
I can think of nothing, but will try to turn this horrible situation into a moment where we can perhaps make a difference.
I can not count the number of times that well-intentioned friends and family members have cautioned us or worried about us traveling to XYZ country. People worry about wars, political upheavals and demonstrations, terrorism, violence on the street, disease, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and God only knows what else.
None of these things have harmed us.
Instead, today we are mourning the loss of a young woman who died AT HOME IN HER OWN BED, because fire alarms are only for the rich in Brazil.
My take-a-way message for all my friends and loved ones is this:
Please, PLEASE, P.L.E.A.S.E, check your smoke/fire detectors and make sure that they are operating properly. Test them. It only takes a moment. And if for some reason you do not already have them installed in your home or apartment, go buy them.
When you are traveling, take a moment to find out where the emergency exits are located. Form a mental plan on how you would leave the building if needed. Know where your passport and any critical medication is, and have them easy to grab.
The life you save may be yours or someone you love.
Gratitude Moment: Today is particularly sad for us. It is hard to find reason for being grateful, yet it is in these moments that I most need to count my blessings. So I will simply close with this:
“At sunset the little soul that had come with the dawning went away, leaving heartbreak behind it” ~ L.M. Montgomery, Anne’s House of Dreams
“What we have once enjoyed, we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us”. ~ Helen Keller