Today – about five hours ago, as I write this article – there was a fire in my apartment building. Don’t worry: I’m perfectly safe, as are my belongings. But I’m both proud and embarrassed to say that my roommate and I swelled to heroism a little too eagerly. On impulse, we stormed straight into the fire, girded with the sure protection of youth, idiocy, and one tiny red extinguisher.
Let’s back up to where everything started, around 5 pm. My roommate Nathan tapped away on his laptop while I gripped my Xbox controller and pondered the fate of Syanna in The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine.
We both began to notice a faint burning smell, even though our windows were closed. Nathan suddenly said, “Hey, ya know what I miss? Fireplaces!”
I sniffed the air and agreed. Certainly, someone nearby was enjoying the warmth and romance of a real wood fireplace. Lucky bastard.
A few minutes later, the smell was getting stronger. Then a loud metallic ringing blared outside our sunroom, not unlike the sound of a school bell. A fire alarm!?
Instinctively, I jumped up and ran to the kitchen, even though it was absurd to think a fire blazed unnoticed ten feet away. Then I tried looking out the window.
“Is that our building?” said Nathan, voicing my own worry. “Should we go check it out?”
“Let’s go!” I said. I tossed on a hat and boots to complement my bathrobe, and together we marched into the parking lot to investigate.
We could see the smoke almost immediately. It streamed from the laundry room, located a mere one floor down and one door away.
Other residents gathered around the building in alarm. At the center of the commotion, a man stood holding the door open to the burning room.
“Is anyone in there?” I asked him, as smoke tumbled out of the doorway.
“No, I don’t think so,” he replied.
“I think you should close the door,” I said. “Without air, the fire might burn itself out.”
“No, I think that’s wrong,” he said. But since the fire clearly wasn’t slowing down, he abandoned his post and vanished.
One minute later, he returned with a fire extinguisher.
“You know how to use this?” he asked my roommate, handing him the red cylinder.
Nathan looked at me, then at the extinguisher. The owner of the device made some excuse about having to go put his shoes on, and disappeared again.
We didn’t take any time to think. Without a word, my roommate stepped over the threshold of the laundry room and plunged into the wall of smoke.
Damned if I was going to stand there and watch him get the glory. I followed right behind, crouched low to the floor.
If you’ve never been inside a burning building before, I can tell you two rather obvious things: you can’t see, and you can’t breathe.
We had no masks or lights, so we just held our breath and fumbled our way around. Deeper inside, a creepy yellow glow bloomed from the ceiling – perfectly terrifying, until we realized it was just the fluorescent lighting.
We didn’t put out the fire, I’m sorry to say. We didn’t even find it. We both ran out of breath and I tried inhaling through my shirt, which didn’t work at all. So we hurried back to the door, coughing and blinking.
“What happened?” asked the dude who probably almost sent us to die in a blaze of glory.
“Couldn’t find the fire,” we wheezed.
Our tenure as amateur firefighters ended right there, as four fire engines were now hurtling into the parking lot. We stood aside as they donned their masks, hooked up their hose, and flooded the room with water.
It was a dryer on fire, they later told us. Apparently burning dryers are not uncommon, and they are easily preventable by cleaning your lint screen, vent, and piping on a regular basis.
So I shall end with a PSA, in the hopes that my concern for safety might mitigate my earlier stupidity: friends, Americans, countrymen, lend me your lint screens. (Or don’t, and clean them yourselves.) In the unfortunate circumstance that your dryer does catch fire, please don’t risk your lives trying to put it out. Only idiots would do that.