Reaction reflections

I have always wondered how I would act in a true emergency.  Not the imagined ones, but the real ones– fire, flood, etc.  I’ve participated in plenty of emergency simulations, but have only once before been in an emergency — and my partner (at that time) diminished my response because his actions were supposedly more important than mine. He’s no longer a part of my life, and that’s part of the reason.

Last night I had the opportunity to learn the answer.

My husband and I had gotten to bed a bit after midnight after watching a couple of episodes of “Orphan Black,” our newest TV obsession. It had taken me a little while to get settled because of the excitement over having my in-laws in town for a visit. I put on my CPAP and settled down to sleep. I noticed that there was an odd smell in my mask, but attributed that to the CPAP being a new machine and that I had cleaned it earlier in the day. But then the smell became strong enough to make my throat hurt. And the smoke alarms start going off. My husband was the first to react, springing out of a sound sleep to yell “fire.”

This is the part where, upon reflection this morning, I amazed myself.

I quickly but calmly got up and grabbed my robe because the night was cool, then went to go get the girls out of their beds. They were amazingly compliant, and I got them to the entry foyer until we all realized that the smell was worse there than in their room. I settled each girl with a blanket and a container of ice water on the living room couch and opened the windows for them to have fresh air. My husband was searching for the source of the smoke, and after a couple of minutes we figured out that it emanated from the basement. He told me to get everyone out of the house, so I busied myself with grabbing warm clothes for each girl, getting myself dressed, and catching the cat. From the time he said to evacuate to sitting on the curb at the farthest point from the house was about five minutes. Somehow, I had the presence of mind to grab cell phones, my laptop, and my purse in case we needed to go somewhere else. A couple of people traveling through the town saw us and asked if we needed a ride somewhere, thinking we were homeless. I called my mom and dad, knowing that they would help calm the girls, both of whom were scared and slightly panicked. Chris contacted the emergency dispatch, and we had fire and rescue personnel on site within a few minutes after that. We grabbed the emergency wool blankets out of the car to keep warm, and the ambulance personnel loaded us into their truck to keep us comfortable. I found myself making jokes and staying remarkably calm through the entire situation. About 30 minutes later, everything in the house was resolved, the smell was cleared out of the rooms, and we were able to go back to bed. The total time from smoke alarm to being back in the house was a little of one hour, which was amazing. I gave the girls extra kisses for their bravery and helped them settle down to sleep.

I am in awe of the solid, calm rock that I was during the entire situation. My husband and I functioned as two halves of a team, each attending to our complementary pieces of the emergency. Granted, we have a bit of a mess to clean up today, but that is inconsequential in comparison to the knowledge of how we all functioned in a time of crisis.

This morning, it is almost as though nothing was amiss. The girls are playing a computer game together, my husband is playing WoW, and the cat is napping in a sunny spot on the couch. If it weren’t for the smell that pervades the basement, the dirt that the firefighters tracked in, and the one door that the firefighters broke to ensure our safety, it was seem like a normal Saturday morning.

I am very grateful for all the unseen hands that guided everyone involved. We are safe, calm, and happy, and had the privilege to add new confidence about our efforts as individuals and as a family.

Janet curled up in the sun, calm as through nothing has happened.
Janet curled up in the sun, calm as through nothing has happened.

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