A couple of days ago a friend of mine posted on Facebook a subject posed by her pastor recently: “If you were in a situation where you had to flee from where you were and were pressed for time, what would you take with you and what would you leave behind?”
Considering that question reminded me of the time, nearly 20 years ago, when our apartment building in Florida caught on fire, due to a kitchen fire in one of the apartments on the floor below. It was around 9 p.m. and I had opened the dishwasher when I noticed what I thought at first was steam coming out of it, but it turned out to be smoke, just a little at first. Thinking there was a malfunction, I went to turn off the power to the dishwasher at the breaker box, but the smoke kept coming, and was increasing.
We heard some shouting outside then and went to the living room windows, seeing people running toward the building, yelling and pointing, and it was then we saw smoke pouring from the apartment below and over one from ours. My daughter had already gone to bed, but she was up in a flash, ready to run in her pajamas. Our cat! He was terrified and hiding under the bed, up against the wall, and neither my then-husband or I could reach him, but Diana was small enough to dive under the bed and grab him; he responded by raking a deep gash down her chest as she struggled to hold his squirming body.
My purse happened to be on the table near the door and I grabbed that as I flew by and we were out the door and down the stairs as fast as we could run, running away from the building a fair distance before turning around. The fire department arrived then and we put the cat in the car and watched as the firemen fought the blaze. The Red Cross appeared on the scene a short time later and gave us all vouchers for a night’s motel stay while we figured out what to do next.
We spent a week in a motel while we arranged for a new apartment, and I was allowed to go into our old apartment briefly under supervision, though the structure was considered unsafe. Our furniture could not be salvaged, but I was able to rescue some personal items and gathered things as fast as I could, feeling nervous that the floor under my feet might give way at any time.
So after that we did what everyone else has to do in such a situation; we started over. What did I take during the emergency? I took my purse only because it was handy; my then-husband, daughter, cat and I getting out were the only things that really mattered. Had my purse not been by the door, I would have let it go.
Since that fire, I’ve always carefully thought about fire escape routes in any apartment or house I’ve lived in. In my new apartment I will have the option of escaping through the door to the hallway or down the steps from my section of balcony, which is good to know. My only thought will be grabbing my little dog and hurrying away, should such a calamity happen. Hopefully I’d take my purse, but it wouldn’t be essential. As we hear every now and then, it’s only life that can’t be replaced. How true that is!