Stop, drop & roll: fire safety in Beijing

By Hannah Leung Source:Global Times Published: 2012-5-23 19:40:02

Growing up in the US, there was always an emphasis on fire safety. I once won the annual competition for having the best "fire safety" poster in my elementary school: at its best, my scratchy drawing of children happily prancing around a fire was semi-creative, with a very derivative message sprawled in bubble letters underneath: "Stop, drop and roll!" So goes the ubiquitous fire safety procedure taught to children, in case they find themselves ablaze.

In Beijing, I've noted the lack of fire alarms and the more exasperating fire drills I came to dread in college, the latter which would often be during the worst times possible. These oversights were mostly a welcomed change of pace, a non-issue, until the building I was living in caught on fire.

Thankfully, all of this happened when I was out of town. But apparently, at approximately 3 am, someone in my residential building decided it was a good idea to put his cigarette out on a bookshelf that was sitting in the middle of the fifth floor corridor. The bookshelf then caught on fire, and the fire offender proceeded to holler for help, awaking our surrounding neighborhoods. Everyone was forced to evacuate, according to my elderly neighbor, who was not very pleased with the early wake-up call.

There are two things that strike me in this story. One, smokers should carry out their vice either in their own apartments or outside and two, the offending neighbor was either really impressive for waking up the whole building successfully - a make-shift human fire alarm - or this speaks poorly about the lack of sound proofing.

No one was happy about this situation, I considered myself lucky that I found out about the incident upon returning home to some very spotty electricity (some of the central electricity was wiped out from the incident) and a broken front door, so I didn't have to bond with my neighbors while clad in embarrassing pajamas.

My near brush with the mortality of my material things left me to ruminate over a few questions: What would happen if there were another fire in my residential building? What would happen at work? Also, what bones would break if I jumped out the second floor window?

More or less unrelieved by all possible outcomes, I spent many sleepless nights muddling in my paranoid thoughts, imagining the worst, until other woes replaced the fear of stopping, dropping, and rolling, at 3 am.

A month ago, a deadly fire at an unlicensed garment factory in Beijing killed at least 17 people, making splashes in the news about building safety and fire protocols. As I have a view of the CCTV "pants" tower everyday - a constant reminder of the very real hazards of unregulated fireworks - the idea of daily fire evacuations, annoying fire alarms, the beeping of low batteries, and silly phrases taught to children in the case of disaster… all these annoying things suddenly seem, well, not so annoying after all.

Posted in: Twocents-Opinion

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