I called 911 — and here’s what I learned

Guestpost by Allison on Aug 1st


Photo by JurischK. Used under Creative Commons license.

We came home from a wedding on Saturday night sometime after 1:00 AM. The house smelled like smoke but we didn't think much of it at first; we figured the neighbours must have burned their dinner or something, and the smell'd stuck around because the windows were closed.

We opened the windows and started to get ready for bed but the smell didn't dissipate — it kept getting worse. Smoke seemed to be coming up from the vents. I decided to go outside, just to check that everything was okay in the apartment below us.

From the street, even with the lights off, I could see the downstairs kitchen was filled with smoke. I knocked on the door and rang the bell but no one answered.

I grabbed our phone and called 911 while Chris managed to get the pets out of the house.

I'd never called 911, but I'm glad I didn't hesitate to do it when I did. Minutes after my call, three firetrucks, three cop cars, and an ambulance were on our corner. When the firemen broke into the apartment they found one of the tenants and his 15 year old son had fallen asleep with a pot on the stove — the unit had a smoke detector but there were no batteries in it.

When thinking of all the what-ifs, I can't help but feel incredibly fortunate for the following things:

  • How cool my partner can be under pressure. He managed to get the cat into her carrier and carry her, the rats and our laptops to safety. He had the presence of mind to also grab his keys and wallet on the way out the door. [REMEMBER! If you think there's fire present, the best course of action is to leave all non-living things in the house and get the hell out! Love, Cat]
  • We came home when we did. Had we come home earlier, we may have gone to sleep before noticing the smoke. Had we spent the night in a hotel, we might not have had a house to come home to — and who knows what would have happened to the people downstairs!
  • The cat carrier was in one piece and on hand. Holding a squirming, snarling Simone would not have been easy.

While I hope I'll never be scared like that again, if there is a next time, I want to be more prepared.

Lessons learned:

  • Always keep the cat carrier assembled in an easy-to-reach location. We often store ours in pieces since it takes up less space — we won't do that again. We were lucky that we didn't have to search for it and put it together when we needed it.
  • When neglecting the housekeeping, be wary that you never know when firemen will need to march through your home. Piles of laundry can be a safety hazard, on top of a huge embarrassment when your apartment is suddenly filled with strangers in uniform.
  • Back up important documents and photos online. If our home had burned down, the back up hard drive wouldn't have done us much good if it went up in flames along with our laptops.
  • Make sure you have a working smoke detector.

Thankfully, I didn't have to learn this stuff the hard way.

Situations like this can get scary fast. What's the most important preparation step you can take to make sure a disaster doesn't wipe you out?

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About Allison

Allison shares her home in Canada’s capital with her partner, Chris, his cat and her pet rats. When not running from burning buildings, she is often found working on elaborate costumes, making things from other people’s junk, and creating delicious new ways to consume alcohol.