Part 22: Unexpected Emergencies

I was sound asleep when a continuous ear-piercing beep from my apartment alarm system woke me. It wouldn’t stop. I rolled over, now wide awake. Thoughts of Is this for real and Is the building on fire raced through my head. I doubted there was a real fire, but if so, what should I do? Why have I never attended a fire drill? Should I stay in my apartment or go into the hall or maybe try to get out of the building? Still lying in my warm bed but becoming more anxious, I wondered if maybe the beeping might be a warning that one of my apartment smoke alarms needed new batteries. That had happened once before. I decided to get up and listen to see if the sound was coming from the other rooms. They were all beeping, so forget the battery theory. I looked out from my sixth-floor apartment window, which faces the back of the property. Everything looked tranquil.

My friends’ reaction to the emergency

I later learned my my across-the-hall neighbor opened her door to to see if I might be out in the hall. Actually, I had crawled back into bed to decide what to do. Then after about 10 minutes, the alarm stopped only to start again a few minutes later. To me that was a good sign. I did not think a real warning would stop and start so it must be a mechanical error. I went back to sleep only to be again awaken by the annoying beeping. This time I called the concierge desk and was told by one of our managers that it was a mechanic failure.

A friend later told me that his friend thought his alarm clock was broken and just beeping away, so he grabbed the clock, threw it against the wall and broke it only to have the awful noise continue. We later found out that there was leaking water that had shorted the alarm system.

That evening Donna and I went down to dinner, and guess what, the beeping began again.  Since we were in the hall we saw what automatically happens when there is a fire alarm: fire doors pop out closing off areas, which made it impossible for us to reach the elevator. Not to be daunted, we walked down the stairs to the dining room where we were welcomed and seated for dinner, now that everyone knew there was no fire risk.

My friend Susan’s reaction to the nightly beeping was different from mine. Over dinner she described seeing fire trucks at the front entrance and frantically grabbing her coat and shoes and pulling them by her front door while she decided what to do. She called the concierge desk but did not get an answer. She was truly frightened. I assumed all of my fellow residents went to bed early that next night.

As an aftermath to all this, many of us wished that our management had used the recently installed Advanced Communications System (E Call) to send a phone message to all the apartments explaining the situation. Maybe next time, though hopeful there will not be a next time.

Another emergency leads to a unexpected dining fun

Yet there was a next time. This happened not too long after the frightening fire alarm. Again it was a case of equipment failure. One would expect that our new, now nearly seven-year-old building to have been better built to avoid leaking water or, in this case, a broken valve on our hot water heater. The story goes that the kitchen staff was preparing the meals for the day when the hot water disappeared. A call to maintenance unfortunately did not solve the problem. Something was broken and could not be fixed immediately. A new part had to be ordered and installed.

This doesn’t sound like too big a deal; however in an institutional kitchen, hot water is mandatory for hand-washing, dish-washing and many cooking operations. In our home we could probably boil water, but no way could enough water be boiled to manage the kitchen’s dish-washing and hand-washing needs, so the kitchen could not function.

This time E Call notified all of us residents that we could not eat in the dining room, and that a limited menu  available for take-out and meals would be delivered to all the apartments and cottages. The Care Center normally gets their meals sent over from the main kitchen, but during this emergency, their warming kitchen was used to prepare simple meals. The meal delivery plan was a huge undertaking, which worked remarkably well. The waitstaff went door-to-door with bags of meals. I joined my neighbor and another friend for a fun dinner enhanced by the friend’s trip to Whole Foods for appetizers and wine.

To our staff’s surprise and chagrin, the needed part did not arrive the next day. How were they going to feed another meal to all 333 of us with an unworkable kitchen? Late morning they called a popular Italian restaurant in the neighborhood that agreed to cater food for a party for us in our large meeting room. It was a wonderful evening with delicious food and wine, as well as a pianist to entertain. We all had a great festive time and tremendous admiration of our CCRC managers who managed the disruption so well. By the next day there was hot water in the kitchen and life was back to routine.

This post was written by Margery Fridstein, an author and retired psychotherapist who lives in a CCRC outside of Denver, CO. She is chronicling her experience in the monthly series, The Last Stop With Margery Fridstein.