Every Wednesday I attend a parenting course. The weekly class meets at a preschool located on the 8th floor of one of those big Brickell high-rises. Even though classes are in session, the school allows us an empty classroom for us to meet. There’s about six of us Mommies and two psychologist facilitators. Today was no different from any other class, we were in the middle of a discussion on when to use a time-out, I think, but then, the fire alarm goes off. The emergency lights in the ceiling start flashing.
We’ve all been through fire drills like these before, so we all just wait assuming its going to be a two-second test and will soon be over. We wait. The alarm continues to ring. We start looking at one another and wondering if we should leave? There are windows that separate the adjoining classroom. We can clearly see that the teachers are not yet gathering the students. Another minute goes by, one of the mothers of our group says, “I’m not sure what’s going on, but my child is here, I’m going to go check on him.” She leaves. We notice that the teacher next door seems to start herding the kids. From the hallway, someone from the school says, “This is not a drill.” We have to go. We gather up our stuff and all of us go into Mommy Alert mode. I don’t know if anyone said it out loud or if it was just all on the top of our minds- “What about all these kids?”
As we head for the door, we see “all these kids” and there seems to be no order whatsoever. There are three maybe four teachers trying to get all these little ones to the door. There are probably twenty of them, ranging in age from 2-4 maybe 5, but they aren’t really talking so I think the majority are around two. One teacher has a kid on each arm, is holding the door to the stairwell with her foot and is ushering the kids and all of us out. The rest of the teachers are trying to hold the hands of the little ones, some trying to hold on to four little hands at once, and picking up the smallest ones. Some kids are just bewildered, some are scared, a lot are crying. I pick up a crying one, and hold the hand of a little girl who didn’t want to hold her teachers hand. All the Mommies and the facilitators (who are also mothers) instinctively reach for and start carrying babies and holding their hands. We make it down one flight of stairs. It takes for-ev-er. Between the crying, the not wanting to go downstairs, the precision it takes for a 2-year-old to take just one step down, we (the adults) don’t panic, but realize the enormity of the situation, especially not knowing the reason of the alarm, and how very hard it is going to be to get this group down seven more flights of stairs. I’m starting to lose feeling in my right arm from the weight of the little one and switch arms. When I switch arms I have to switch hands with the little girl who’s hand I’m holding. She immediately grabs my other hand, tightly. I tell her “Thank you for doing such a good job going down the stairs.” I don’t know if she understands, but she keeps holding on. The one I’m holding stops crying and leans his head against my chest.
We make it to the 6th floor and we are relieved to hear an “all clear” type sound from the alarm and then the ringing and the flashing stops. We get all of the children from the emergency stairwell to the elevator and then back up to the preschool and their classrooms. We Mommies convene back in our classroom and we all just sort of stare at each other. We were all thinking it, but then someone said it- “I can’t even think about what would’ve happened if we wouldn’t have been here.”
There was no way those four teachers would’ve been able to get all those kids down those stairs. Was that really their emergency plan? It appeared that no one had time/or had a system to count the kids and make sure no child was left. To be fair, perhaps each teacher knew their students, but in my gut, I’m not sure. It was scary. I was shaken, as well as all the other mommies were.
I have emergency numbers in two different locations in my house. I have flashlights in every closet. But if my house had to be evacuated, I don’t have a meeting place set up with my nanny. Because his school has been around for awhile, I want to believe that there are emergency procedures set up. But maybe I should ask to see them?
What is your emergency plan? Do you live in a high rise? Do you have a nanny or caretaker that is familiar with the location of the emergency stairwell? Do they/do you know where that stairwell leads to once downstairs? If your family can’t make it to your home because of a fire or other type of evacuation, do you have a meeting place designated?