Sunday, February 9, 2014

Fire Drill

A few weeks ago, the fire alarm went off in my office.  It’s an obnoxious alarm that sounds like a World War II air raid siren, and every once in a while a soothing voice will break in to say, “This is a fire alert, please proceed to the nearest exit.”

All around me, people started putting on coats and hats and gathering up their belongings.  A couple of women took a moment to change from heels to sneakers.

This was a slow moving train, and I was bringing up the rear.  Not because I was especially concerned that everyone had cleared out of the room, but because I’d decided to go back for my gym bag.  Thinking, of course, that this smelly piece of canvas was something I couldn’t replace if it were destroyed by fire.

A good number of minutes later, scattered throughout the ground floor of our building, we learned that it had been a false alarm.  There was no fire.  We’d seen this happen before due to burnt microwave popcorn or some other minor mishap, and so we filed back to our workspaces to finish up the business of the day.

And for some reason, I was reminded of a time when I took these occurrences much more seriously.  Way back in junior high, many years ago …

And thinking back, I recall that in 7th grade, the fire alarm at our school was … a cowbell.  Yes, as in, “I gotta have more cowbell.”

And we had student “fire marshals” at our school whose job it was to walk down the hall and ring the cowbell for fire drills.  Then, the marshals would closely observe and time us as we left the building in an orderly manner.  (I decided I wouldn’t mind being a fire marshal one day.  I wasn’t sure how you got the job, but wearing cowboy boots and a thermal underwear top seemed to help.)

At first, we seventh graders were the slowest out of the building, mainly because we didn’t know what we were doing.  We caught on quickly, though, and then noticed that it was actually the seniors who were slowing us down.  Didn’t they know that this was practice for a real fire?  What was taking them so long?  They just strolled down the hallway with hands in their pockets and smiles on their faces as if they had all day long.

But we didn’t have all day; we were being timed.  And there were “good times” and there were “bad times.”  I don’t remember exactly what those were, but our principal would announce our times over the intercom or in chapel in order to encourage us toward improvement.

And now that I think about it, there were a couple of things that concerned me about our fire-alarm system:
  1. The cowbell was kept in the principal’s office.  What if a fire broke out in that office?  Was there a backup cowbell?
  2. Also, we used cowbells during pep rallies.  What if there was a fire during a pep rally?  How would we know if it was the fire marshals ringing the bell or just an enthusiastic Pep Club member?

But in the end, it all seemed to work out just fine.  We practiced and practiced and practiced, and there never was a single fire.  And, even now when I hear a cowbell, I remember with fondness those drills of my youth.


So what is the meaning of these thoughts about fire alarms and such?  I’m not sure, but I think it might have something to do with this.  As a kid, I worried about fires.  The thought of them stressed me.  I never saw the movie The Towering Inferno, but somehow the idea of it was lodged in my brain.

But these days, I don’t worry so much about them.  And some of this could be due to laziness or cynicism or something else.  Admittedly there could be some of that in the mix.  But I like to think that most of it is a growing trust in God.  A next-level of spiritual maturity.

If it’s a fire drill … then I go with Him.

And if it’s the real deal … well … then I go with Him.


  1. Wonderful post. Thank you so much for sharing.

  2. I love that we used cowbells for the drills! I just think that's so cool.

    And reading your post made me reflect in a sadly ironic way on the fact that our beloved (to me, at least) building was eventually burned after they demolished it.

    1. I feel exactly the same way, Sheila. I loved the old HA building.