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Playing The Hokey Pokey Can Get You Killed During A Fire Drill

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It is four a.m. I have been asleep for roughly two hours. I can still smell and taste this really disgusting pizza we had a few hours earlier. Suddenly the fire alarm goes off throughout the entire building. I decide I’m going to go back to sleep until a tiny voice in my head starts shouting like a computer nerd during a power failure, “you’re an RA! Get the heck out there!” I kind of wish we had a costume we could wear underneath our clothing with the letters RA (Resident Assistant) in the middle like Superman’s. This way I could hurl myself out the window, land on my feet, and report for duty without breaking a sweat.

Unfortunately I’m not that lucky. It’s four in the morning, and when it’s that early, nothing wants to work, not even your brain. After tripping over my cable wire, I manage to grab whatever clothes I can find and put them on. As I go the door I realize I live in Potsdam, and in this wonderful town of ours, it is most likely freezing outside, even in the middle of April. So I stop, take a deep breath, and grab my winter jacket as I go out the door. I have the feeling it could be a long one…

On my way down the stairs one of my residents points out there was some smoke drifting in from the 5th floor. I stop, poke my head in, and then that little voice goes off again, ”Hey Jerk, since you got out of bed late, it is likely most of the people are outside. You should get your ass down there.” For once that little voice had some sound advice. Usually he is telling me to pick fights with small children in front of their parents. I make my way down the stairs, check in with my fellow RAs, and go to work making sure no one runs back into the building while the fire department does their thing. This gives me some time to reflect on common occurrences I have experienced at different colleges during a fire alarm. I would like to share some advice for those of you who find yourself outside during a fire alarm:

1) Shut up.

Seriously. Shut up. And I don’t mean shut up if you’re talking to your friends or privately bitching about being outside. That’s ok with me. It’s cold and it’s early. No one wants to be outside, not even your Resident Assistants. But every time students have to go outside, there is always someone who has to be the center of attention. And that person must think they’re hip, cool, and original for being stupid. Shouting stuff like “Whoooo” or the ever popular “Let’s rush the door, they can’t catch all of us!” is just stupid. Go play Frisbee or something if you have that much energy so early in the morning. Of course, the worst example of this was at Alfred State during the semester’s first fire drill. Everyone filed out, the RAs did their thing and blocked the door until it was safe, and everyone was quiet. And then suddenly out of the great void one idiot decides to shout, “Let’s play the hokey pokey!” I won’t lie; I was hoping someone would kill him. No one cares or wants to hear what idiotic things you have to yell during a fire drill. You know what they do want to hear? “It’s OK to go back inside.” Anything before that is just white noise. And I don’t mean the kind where the dead people speak to you.

2) Don’t rush the door.

“Let’s rush the door. They won’t be able to catch all of us!” ranks up there with such great sayings as, “Adolph Hitler had some good ideas,” and “Say, we should make another Scary Movie.” For starters, the odds are people know who you are and what you look like. So even if you rushed the doors and made it inside, the RAs will find out and you will be written up. Second, what is running inside going to accomplish? We’ve already established the only cool part of a fire alarm going off is when everyone can go back inside. Do you seriously crave attention that much? I’m pretty sure they made MySpace for people like you. Get a profile and plop yourself down in front of it if you really need attention. No one will visit it, but at least you’ll think they do. The odds are, once you’re inside, you’ll find yourself running into either the village or town police, the university police or campus security, and/or the fire department. Either encounter will result in some heavy fines that will zap your beer money and result in possible judicial action. So now, not only have you made an ass out of yourself, pissed off the RAs, and guaranteed a steep fine against you, but you may also find yourself standing face to face with some angry police officers. Great idea, Skippy. Great idea.

3) Don’t stay in your room.

I’ll be the first to admit that during my time as a normal resident I have slept through a fire alarm or several. I never believed the fire department would come in with the university police or RAs and check the room. Well, the truth is, not only are the rooms checked when the fire alarm goes off, you can be fined a lot if they catch you in your Captain Planet pajamas. I’ll skip right over the part where you might have a picture taken in said jammies and later find it all over the Internet faster than you can say “Star Wars kid.” As much as it sucks, and remember I am not writing this to say getting up early in the morning or standing outside in the freezing cold doesn’t suck, you need to get out of the building when the alarm goes off. Think of it like this: how often during your time at college have you found a way to embarrass yourself in front of a large group of people? Plenty if you’re really honest with yourself (and if you said never, you’re wasting the best time of your life.) So let’s look at a trade off: do you want to embarrass yourself by going outside wearing Captain Planet pajamas or do you want to have an officer, fire marshal, or Resident Assistant find you in your jammies and issue you a huge fine for hanging out in your room? And let’s not mention the number of very pissed-off people there might be outside who may find out you were nice and warm while they froze their asses off.

Finally, when you make it back into the building, hopefully in a calm and orderly fashion that doesn’t resemble a European football riot, don’t get on the elevator. Seriously. Don’t get near the elevator. Unless you’re in one of those massive dorms with 22 floors, just suck it up and take the stairs. Elevators, and the rest of the building’s electrical system, like to mess with people after the alarm goes off. People who use the elevator after a power outage or fire alarm may get stuck there. As someone who has been trapped in an elevator before can attest to, it blows harder than a hurricane through the Gulf Coast. If you are stuck in an elevator, try to use the emergency call button if it’s available, or your cell phone if it works. The RA staff…well…the RAs who care about their residents will wait outside the elevator for you until help gets there. In the meantime, try not to fart or start any awkward conversations like, “I really dislike Hispanic people.” Otherwise it may be a while before you can get back to bed in one piece.

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About Brandon J. Mendelson