Saturday, August 10, 2002

Fire Drill

"Riiiiiiiing!!!" The school bell always sounded pleasant, whether it was signaling the end of class or a fire drill. If the former was the case, we'd be counting the minutes left before it was break time. If it was the latter, as long as the time wasn't spent on listening to the teacher and doing class work, it was something we all looked forward to. This was the typical day of a high school student enrolled in Xavier.

While the ringing of the bell for recess and lunch was scheduled, fire drills weren't. There'd be a month or two wherein fire drills would be held. You didn't know when it would happen or what time it would occur. It just did. It was common for students to pray for the fire drill to occur while they were having an exam.

This would go on year after year that fire drills became too commonplace. Sometimes, we'd even have fire engines outside the school to simulate a fire rescue. Seniors would walk down the stairs from the fifth floor down to the ground floor. It was a practice we all thought we'd never use but did it nonetheless since it was an excuse to keep us out of the classroom.

One memorable event was during my second year. We were at the ground floor, inside the Macintosh lab. The room was well ventilated by the air conditioner so we were closed to the outside world: no open doors and no open windows. Everyone was busy with the computers, trying to finish the activity Ms. Conception had assigned to us.

And then we heard the bell. We had just started class so we knew that it didn't signal dismissal. We ignored it, thinking it was just a fluke. We resumed our work on the computers but the bell kept ringing for five minutes. One of us finally said that it was probably a fire drill. A lot of us sighed at that. We didn't want to leave the comforts of the chilly room. Computers were something some of us enjoyed, and for those who didn't, there was always the attractive teacher who kept watch on us. It took us another five minutes before we finally got out of the room.

Since we were on the ground floor, we saw a gathering of students when we came out. They were all with their teachers, asking them to form lines and neatly arranged themselves. Of course none of the students followed the teacher's commands. They were all staring at the top of the building. When we looked up, we saw smoke. Yellow smoke to be precise. The fifth floor was burning and a haze of yellow smoke concealed the right part of the building, where the various laboratories were. There was actually a fire.

Everyone wasn't shocked. Surprised, perhaps, but not shocked. The fire was like a circus attraction which everyone pointed at and kept on looking. Me and my classmates were joking that what we thought was a drill was actually a real fire. The fifth floor was evacuated and soon, fire trucks came. We saw firemen from the trucks enter the fifth floor but how they managed to extinguish the flames, we can only surmise. Classes for the juniors and seniors were suspended during that day as damages were being reported and filed.

When I came back to school the next day, I took a glimpse of the fifth floor. The windows of classrooms were broken. The walls of the lab had small black marks but other than those, everything seemed to be intact. I didn't explore more since exposing myself to seniors were something undesirable. Our freshman days of being intimidated by seniors were still fresh in our minds.

Later that day, it was said that the cause of the fire was an electrical wiring fault. As to why it caused yellow smoke, we never really knew. Some hypothesized that it was caused by the sulfur in the lab. While that theory seemed to be reasonable, I don't see how sulfur could have gotten mixed with the electric wires. It was the talk for the rest of the week and the seniors endured classes with broken windows.

You'd think that after that incident, our reaction to fire drills would turn into something quite serious. That's not the case though. Our view of fire drills was still the same: it was something to get us out of class. When we'd hear the bell, we'd talk and fuss, all the while lining up to exit the room. There was no feeling of panic, no sense of dread since we always reassured ourselves that it was only a drill. If there was a real fire, we'd probably make a stampede running out of the building.

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