I write the following in a low-emotion writing style because that is pretty much how I remember it. I immediately kicked into “work” mode when I realized what was going on.
Monday morning December 14th, 2009 at about 11:20 the fire alarm in my building started ringing. I went to the door, felt it to make sure it wasn’t hot and opened it. My upstairs neighbor Samantha was walking down, she said in an elevated voice “There is smoke upstairs!” I went back inside, put my shoes on and went upstairs. I saw a whiff of smoke coming from the top of my upstairs neighbor’s door. It wasn’t much, may be one lungfull of cigarette smoke, but it smelled wrong. It smelled like pine and something else. I knocked loudly on the door and then felt the door. The top was not warm and all but the bottom was a tiny bit too hot. I thought for a second that may be it was just the sun shining in on the door warming it up. But no it was a fire.
I ran downstairs and called 911. “There is a fire inside the top floor apartment in my building. I am at [address redacted]. I saw smoke coming from the top of the door and the door was hot.” The dispatcher said that the fire department would be on the way. I sat down and thought for a minute. Should I rescued anything is in my apartment? Maybe I should grab my computer. Nah, I just finished backing it up and I don’t think the building will burn down, water damage probably won’t kill my computer. Is there anything else I should grab? Nah. I grabbed my cell phone, my home phone (it works within one block of the building) and a jacket. I went upstairs to the door again I went over, grabbed the water hose in the back stairwell and set it where it could be seen. I considered forcing the door open to fight the fire, knowing how fast fires spread (they double in size every 18 seconds!). But I thought how the fire department would be here very soon and it could easily get out of hand if I opened the door to give the fire air.
I went to different apartments knocking loudly. I ran into S. and told her in a forceful voice “There is a fire in the building, it might burn down. You should leave.” I went down one floor and knocked on all of those doors loudly, shouting how there are was a fire in the building. I then heard fire sirens and thought to run downstairs to prop open the doors. I heard later that they would have ripped it from it’s hinges if I hadn’t. I walked up with 3 fire fighters and showed them where the fire was. It’s good that I walked up with them so they could find the fire quickly, no smoke was coming out of her door at all. The fire fighters broke the glass window, reached around and unlocked the door in a remarkable 3 seconds. When the door opened, a wall of thick very dark gray smoke from 3′ off the ground to the top of the door started to inch out the doorway. It seemed a bit odd how slow the smoke moved. I watched them bust into another neighbors apartment in 2 seconds: a swift shove broke the glass and the plexiglass burglar-proofing insert was ripped all its screws.
Things were starting to look better. The firefighters brought up a water hose and were barnstorming the burning apartment. Initially the hose was leaking all over the stairwell but they shoved the leaking union out the 1st story window. I went downstairs and out. I called the landlord, building manager, and neighbors.
Later, I saw S. sticking her head out the window of her apartment, slightly surprised to see fire trucks. All I could think was, “Idiot.”
Over an hour or so, neighbors trickled in from the places I called them from. The contents of the burnt apartment were thrown in a soggy pile in front of the apartment, and things began to calm down. All in all, there wasn’t that much damage to the building. The fire department ripped a hole in the ceiling of the flaming apartment to make sure fire wasn’t eating through the rafters. The water damage people put holes in the wall-ceiling joinery so they could set up fans and dry out the bones of the building. It completely sucks if mold takes hold of a building after a fire! The rugs were dried out and brought back after a few weeks.
As a thank you, the landlord gave me a gift certificate to the House of Prime Rib in San Francisco. I haven’t gone yet but will soon!