It is called a fire alarm for a reason.

Just a note here, since I cannot announce it over the Public Address system where I work:

If you are in a library, and you hear a fire alarm, leave the building.

True, the odds are very good that there is no fire. It may be a drill. It may be a glitch in the alarm system. It may be someone sneaking a smoke in the bathroom, which although technically involving fire is not a fire within the meaning of the act.

One of the things it may be is a fire.

If it is a fire, and it probably isn’t, but if it is a fire, it will probably not wind up with open flames in the stacks.

But if it does come to that?

I know you do not want to gather up your things and walk to the entrance and stand out in the sun or the rain or the snow for ten minutes while the building is cleared and we get the high sign to let you back in. That’s a pain, and since the odds are very very good that there is no fire, or no fire anywhere near you, it seems like a lot of effort for nothing.

But you won’t actually know if this low-likelihood event is taking place unless you see flames on the bookshelves, will you. And paper? The substance in all those books? And paper dust?

Think about gambling for a minute. If we were to wager on, oh, let’s see. Take two decks of cards, you pick a card from your deck and I pick a card from mine, and we see if they match. If they don’t match, you win a dollar. If they match, you pay me a dollar. But if we match five times in a row, then you not only pay me a million dollars, but I set fire to your fucking hair and trap you in an exploding building full of poisonous smoke.

Would that be a good bet?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

3 thoughts on “It is called a fire alarm for a reason.

  1. Catherine

    Oh, preach it.

    In the 2.5 years I’ve worked there, my library has never, to my knowledge, had a fire drill. I’m of the opinion that this is A Problem, but apparently the Powers That Be disagree. (I’d been working there a year before I accidentally discovered that I have official duties in the event of a fire alarm. When were they going to tell me this?)

  2. Michael

    It would be a good bet if I’m willing to walk away when we’ve matched 4 times, and keep playing until then. And I think that’s the problem with fire drills — we get conditioned to think that we’ll experience multiple fire drills before we ever experience an actual fire. So why bother to react?


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