(Nightly) sirens in the US

Previous week  there were some big thunderstorms that finally ended the 2-month drought in Belgium. Unfortunately the lightning struck a house in the area of Leuven and set it on fire. The people escaped on time and there was only material damage.

The story reminded me that I've not told you about our nightly evacuation on our recent US vacation yet. We were staying at Virginia Beach for a couple of nights.  It wasn't uncommon on vacation that I didn't sleep through the night: sleeping in unknown hotel beds, 4 people in the room, the room that heated up when we turned off the airco, ...

In the middle of the night I wake up because Jan gets up. I assume he goes to the toilet and I turn around.  I'm a little annoyed because he opens our room door which wakes me up more. Now I hear that annoying car alarm out in the street more.  I don't want to wake up as it'll take more time to fall back asleep.
"We have to go", he says as he closes the door again.
"Huh, what? Is that alarm here? "  I ask half asleep.
"Yes, I take Beertje, do you take Kabouter, the fire alarm is on." he replies
"Isn't that a car alarm?" but I see Jan taking Beertje.

I jump out of bed now but my head's still asleep. I hear that whining alarm while I walk to Kabouter's bed. I shake him and talk to him but he doesn't wake up:  "Wake up, Kabouter, we need to go downstairs. Kabouter, Kabouter, wake up, you need to get up."
Jan's already at the door with Beertje in his arms.
"Are you ready, just pick him up, we need to leave." All of a sudden I realise the sense of urgency: there's a fire in the hotel.

I also pick up Kabouter who only wakes up half and clings to my neck. Without my further thought I slip in my slippers and grab my phone and key card from the table and we leave the room.   The hallway is deserted.

In the staircase on the other hand, we join a stream of silent people walking down. People in pyjamas like us, other people carrying children in their arms. It was solemn and it was real and serious. Fortunately the evacuation was also calm as I do not notice any smoke anywhere and I know we are only on the 2nd floor.  With my sleepy head I automatically turn off towards the lobby on the ground floor, instead of the nearby emergency exist.

And so we all of sudden find ourselves with sleepy children in our arms on the sea promenade in our pyjama's.  I walk up and down the backside of the hotel, observing closely all windows to check if I see any flames or smoke anywhere. It seems to be fine, but I don't know what is happening inside.

We are cold. I have not heard that Jan told me to grab our coat when leaving. He had taken Beertje inside his baby blanket but I have nothing to protect Kabouter until Jan gives us his jacket.

Lots of sirens approach as 6-8 fire trucks pull up at the front side of the hotel.  It's a big light and sound show.  We point to them for the children who find all sirens interesting without realising what is going on.  The firefighters in a truck next to us remain in the truck and seem quite relax.  The children wave to them.   I relax...surely there is no fire if they don't bother to get out.  We explain the children we have to wait until the fire fighters tell us we can go inside again.  In the mean time the alarm keeps on whining. On all sides of the side-walk people are waiting in silence...we don't talk to each other.  I check out some people that clearly took the time to get fully dressed before evacuating...crazy people.  I look around and doubt seriously that all people from the hotel are outside. Maybe more people thought it was just a car alarm, maybe more people slept through it. Thank goodness it was false alarm.

Only minutes after the siren finally turns silent, we get sign that we can re-enter the building.  The reception desk is populated with some firefighters with no sign of the personnel. The children wave and we start climbing up the staircase again. Fortunately I had taken our key card to re-enter the room.

Much to my surprise, the children go back to sleep after just some cuddling without much questions asked.  So does Jan. I, on the other hand,  start trembling ... All the calmness and sleepiness from during the evacuation is all of a sudden replaced by "what if" fear.   What if it hadn't been false alarm? What if we had slept through the alarm? What if we had to evacuate but our escape route was blocked?  I need to chase apocalyptic images with an hour of Netflix before I manage to go back to sleep.

The next day a paper in the elevator explains that hotel management is by law not allowed to turn off the alarm if there has been tampered with a smoke sensor in a room and that they have to wait until the fire department gives green light.  I curse whomever had the bright idea to tamper with a hotel smoke alarm at 2 AM .  But besides tired from the interrupted night, we had a good story and a good excuse to spend a lazy day near the beach.

It all stresses the importance again of having sufficient good smoke detectors at all homes and thinking of an escape route.  Kabouter could not sleep in his new room after our renovations until after we had put up a smoke detector in the hallway at his door.  Let's hope they never go off during a night while the children are small because that's the only reason why I find it hard that my children sleep 2 floors above me. Hence the importance of good detectors.

That night wasn't the only time we encountered sirens in the US ...we were also pulled over by a state trooper with the  fattest Southern accent because Jan was speeding apparently.  While Kabouter took the entire night evacuation without any emotions, now he really panicked about his dad having to go to prison. Fortunately for him the trooper was visibly discouraged to fill in all the paperwork for an international fine, so we just got a warning :p.


yab said…
A cool story, indeed. We had to be evacuated from a hotel in Japan once, due to a (false) bom alarm. I have to say, staff was really professional there, handing out blankets for the people standing outside.

Luckily that trooper was a bit lazy. ;-)

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