Ah yes, another instance where my life’s events bring me right back to an Arrested Development reference.
In the middle of the night last night, I awoke to some weird sound in my room. Almost like a spark or something. My roommates, boyfriend, and family have all seen me wake up hastily due to an alarm or slight movement, so this, ‘barely able to open my eyes’ for something potentially harming was new to me.
I saw a red-ish glow and wondered if my room caught fire thanks to some ignition next to my radiator (I’ve never had one before. I have no idea how dangerous these can be??) I wanted to be alert; In high school a classmate of mine burned her whole house down because of her heated blanket. She lost everything. I couldn’t help but think of her story: how she tried diffusing it, but her brother wouldn’t wake up to help–he thought she was crazy.
I didn’t want my whole house burning down, so I tried opening my eyes more, but I couldn’t tell if the red color was from my electrical power strip cord “On/Reset” button, or if it really was the start of a fire. I hazarded a safe guess of power strip cord button.
I couldn’t help but think, What if this really were a fire? I think my mom and I would be able to take care of this quickly and efficiently enough. The firehouse does sit right around the corner from us, if we would need them. But probably not.
And then I thought, Wow, I wonder if I should be more alert about a situation like this?
And then I thought, Never have, probably never will be.
I’ve wanted to talk about my family’s instinct around fires for a while now, and last night’s “event” is a good enough spark for me to share.
Let’s go back to 2004-ish. I was somewhere around the age of 10-ish. On Christmas Eve, my oldest sister Jodi and her then-boyfriend-or-husband (depending on the year), Josiah, wanted to make the family dinner. My parents owned a duplex: one home sitting one floor above another home. So that’s 2 kitchens, 2 living rooms, 2 dining rooms, etc.
We used to use the upstairs home for renters, but when my parents started to separate, my mother took the upstairs. Since the upstairs didn’t have a family of 7 living in it for the last 15 years, it was much nicer and cleaner: better for family dinners and events.
Anyway, Jodi was cooking upstairs when suddenly she started an oil fire. As everyone should know, oil fires cannot be extinguished from water. The fire was somewhat contained in her pan and she tried using the intercom to talk to the rest of the family below.
She held the button and gently exclaimed ‘fire!’ a few times. Knowing that our intercom system was not the best, she told me to go downstairs to ask for help.
When I got downstairs, one family member was in the kitchen while another read very relaxed in the living room. I could already hear Jodi’s muffled voice through most of the static on the intercom. Someone said, “Is she saying fire?” calmly. The other said, “I don’t think so,” and continued reading. I said “Yes! There’s a fire! She needs help.” This was more exciting for me than worrying. They said “Oh” and walked upstairs.
Josiah rushed to Jodi’s side and said, “Fire! Well put it out!” He quickly took the pan from her, and rushed it under the sink while Jodi yelled, “No!” (the most concerned she got about this at all). The fire expanded in the pan and she took the pan shakily outside to our back porch. On the way, some oil spilled out and burned the carpet. I can still picture it perfectly, though that house has been bulldozed for probably a decade now.
She diffused the fire situation. And that’s the day I learned about oil fires. None of us panicked. Being the youngest, I did what I was told. Jodi being the oldest, she handled it. It seemed like an exciting story for me to tell friends at the time, but as I got older, I realized just how funny it was instead. Not because of the content, but because of how calm we were–and how I’ve learned how freaked-out other people are in emergencies.
A couple-to-few years later, I was downstairs when our landline rang. I picked it up.
Caller: Hi, this is Mr. McCorry, your neighbor a few doors down.
Me: Hi, yes!
Mr. McCorry: Who am I talking to by the way?
Mr. McCorry: Oh Tobi, hello. Yeah I was just calling to let you know there’s some sort of smoke or fire coming from your backyard.
Me: Oh, really? Huh.
Mr. McCorry: Yeah, so you’ll probably want to tell your parents about it and check it out quickly.
Me: Okay, thanks.
I should note that he did not sound rushed or panicked either. Because of this, I didn’t run to find my mom. I think I had to walk upstairs to get her, then we both casually walked downstairs and outside together. There was some smoke rising in the air. We were not surprised, we still did not rush to the scene. There was a small life-vest from our shed that was in flames that someone threw on top of my mom’s camper. The fire didn’t spread from the vest, but the smoke grew really tall. My mom grabbed the hose and put the fire out. The vest burned a hole in the roof of her camper and I don’t know if she’s ever even used it since.
That story, obviously not as exciting as the first still stood out to me. Again, when I continued to tell people these stories, they were more worried than I was in the moment. To me, I know that panicking doesn’t get anything done, but to everyone else it seems that’s their first instinct.
And I’ve realized that’s also why people like me working at my hotel. The building was built in 1876, so there are a lot of things that break and go wrong. Any time there’s an emergency, I don’t have time to freak out. I just have to get it done. And I learned everything I know about the hotel industry from my old boss, who also comes from a large family (so this might be cause for some study or something).
A couple of months ago, my car broke down on the highway late at night, 90 miles from home. My boyfriend commended me for how calm I was. He mentioned that if it were his car, he’d be bugging. I said it won’t get us anywhere.
Now to me, my version of freaking out is calling a family member first. That’s my instinct. And it probably comes from these fire incidents. When my car broke down, I called my oldest sister since I knew she was still awake on the West Coast. Then I called AAA. But really, I should have called AAA immediately. I knew what my sister was going to say, I knew what I had to do. But I still called her first. That’s my version of freaking out.
But my boyfriend still thinks I was calm, cool, and collected.
And when it comes to work, (keeping the thread of my post-grad life), I do my job efficiently and effectively. No time to waste or panic. Just get it done.
So, I guess in a way, my family and I are like Tobias Funke…but only when he adds, ‘sale’ at the end. After all, there was no fire in my room, and if there were, I think we would have taken care of it just fine.