lessons learned

  • When the fire alarm goes off, it isn’t ALWAYS a false alarm or fire drill
  • Sure, the alarm alerts you to the fact your house is burning down, but it’s SO LOUD AND PIERCING that you can’t actually think beyond “ow my ears”
  • I hung around with the alarm blaring for almost half an hour. In retrospect, this was probably a mistake
  • The fire alarm terrifies cats
  • Cats hide when they’re terrified
  • 40 pounds of cat is heavy
  • Dumpsters: flammable
  • Smelling actual smoke when the fire alarm is going off: horrifying
  • A 22lb hyperventilating panting cat is a scary thing to see
  • I really ought to wear clothes when I’m at home

The fire alarm went off Monday afternoon around 3pm. I was elbow deep in House Stark when it happened (as well as very naked), and not really impressed at the interruption – this was my day off to READ, and I couldn’t very well do that with a 10,000 decibel beep going off in every room. I wandered around the house for a bit waiting for it to go away, figuring it was just a false alarm and would be over soon. When it wasn’t, I discovered that the alarm doesn’t go off in the bathroom and I could hide away in relative peace. I thought I’d grab the cats to take with me, because if the alarm was hurting ME it must have been excruciating for their sensitive ears. I knew they’d be hiding, so I left my Kindle on the toilet and went out on a mercy mission to gather the cats.

I passed the window on my way to to side of the bed where the cats could hide and glanced out. There were .. a lot of people out there for this time of the day. Curious. I leaned over the dresser to take a closer look, my heart thudding uncomfortably when I realized that the people downstairs were my neighbours – they had evacuated when the alarm went off instead of hanging around thinking about titties – and, more importantly, that they all had their pets with them. This was looking more and more like something serious and not just a mid-afternoon annoyance, but any confusion I felt immediately turned to panic when I realized I could see and smell smoke. Real smoke. The alarm was going off because my building was actually on fire, and I had wasted the last 20 minutes dicking around my house in the nude.

I sprang into action (which must have looked really funny) and grabbed the first clothes I could find – jeans, a bra and a dress. I didn’t have time to think about valuables or importants; I had to get the cats. I ran into the spare room closet and grabbed a cat carrier – I could only find the one. I knew we had more than one, but I couldn’t find it and the smell of smoke was getting stronger. Not wanting to waste any more time, I grabbed a duffel bag and emptied it of a bizarre assortment of winter gear and baseball equipment – this would do. Now, to get the cats.

As I had predicted, the cats were in full panic mode and hiding. Hobble and Lemon were cowering under the bed, and I was less than gentle in my attempt to get them out. It took a lot of swearing, pulling and also a boot, but they finally left the safety of the bedroom and tore out into the living room. This was good – I had more room to maneuver. I cornered an angry Lemon, scooped him up and tossed him into the first carrier – one down. Next, the fatty – he was busy trying to cram his giant head under the couch, and I had to be careful I didn’t break his neck in our collective panic. His claws did a number on my arm, but it wouldn’t be the first blood drawn today so I ignored it and zipped him into the duffel bag – two down. The last cat, Cheddar, is small and docile – I can carry her as long as the other two are safely zipped away, and we could leave. Where was Cheddar? The alarm made it hard to think, and the smell of smoke was getting stronger. I could have sworn it was getting warmer, and I was as close to freaking out as I ever get. Where the fuck was Cheddar?? I looked everywhere. Seconds were ticking by, and the smoke was so strong. Finally, I couldn’t wait any longer – I choked back a sob, picked up my two cat bags and my purse, and ran out the door and into the stairwell.

I left Cheddar behind.

The two cats and I crossed the street and collapsed onto a patch of grass. I saw that Ed had called twice – likely in response to my panicked tweets about this being an ACTUAL fire – so I called him back and told him to come home immediately. After that, there was nothing to do but wait. I was racked with guilt at leaving Cheddar behind and trying to calm down the others, wishing in retrospect that I had put Lemon in the duffel bag and Hobble in the cat carrier instead of vice versa. Lemon is pretty unflappable, and I could have held onto him while fatty fat flailed about in the zipped mesh carrier – instead, I had to deal with a huge cat freaking the fuck out and trying to escape the safety of the bag and my arms for the tires of a truck or worse. He managed to get a claw out and into my arm, tearing it out with a large chunk of flesh. It was difficult to keep him under control; he tried to bolt with every new noise in the air. It kept my mind off Cheddar though, and we wrestled on the grass and watched the fire trucks arrive. I think I may have tweeted incoherently about leaving Cheddar behind, but my hands were too full (and shaking too badly) to follow up with any information, not that I really had anything new to share. We waited for a long time as fire trucks and police arrived, and my neighbours took it all in stride – some of them went to to Tim Hortons for an Iced Capp and generally just enjoyed the break in the gorgeous afternoon.

It was hot in the sun, and Hobble started to hyperventilate. It’s a pitiful sight, and one that tears at my heart because I can’t make him understand what was going on and that I’m not trying to hurt him but keep him safe from harm. I picked up the cat bags and moved closer to the building, into the shade just as Ed pulled up in a cab. Technically I was still mad at him for his epic dickbaggery of Sunday afternoon, but I was glad to see him. He came over to check on us, and I crumbled into sobs as I told him I had to leave Cheddar behind. He held me as I bawled, and after I had myself somewhat under control I urged him to go ask the Building Lady what was going on. I didn’t hear everything she said, but I did catch her suggestion that he go check on our other cat. This made me dissolve into tears again, because it could only mean that the smoke had gotten worse and I had killed Cheddar, our sweet and stupid Cheddar who loves everyone and everything and never hurt a soul in her life, all because I didn’t move quickly enough. I sat in the shade and shook and cried, not caring about the people around me. I hugged a reluctant Hobble tightly to my chest and cried my heart out, knowing that I killed her and she was gone and I was the worst person in the entire universe. Nothing else mattered at that moment, and I sobbed into a very fat and confused cat for all I was worth.

Ed eventually came back downstairs and came to my side. I looked up and braced myself for the worst .. but it was unnecessary. Cheddar was completely fine and safe and fine – in fact, she had been sleeping soundly without a care in the world when Ed found her and woke her up. She was safe. I likely sobbed some more – I am very good at sobbing, apparently – and Ed told me what he knew: there’s been a rash of dumpster fires in East Van, and we were hit today. I didn’t know there had been other fires or that this was an epidemic, but some awesome person decided our garbage looked mighty cold and tried to make things right with fire. It spread quickly, setting off alarms and making a lot of smoke. I don’t know the state of the building – we were allowed back in and some police tape went up, keeping people out of the alley as the VPD CSI’d that shit up. I don’t know any more than that, and I don’t care. My cats are safe – even the one I had to leave behind – and our whole little family is okay. Shaken, but okay.

After we calmed down and I cried myself out, we made some changes to the Emergency Cat Hauling Situation. The second cat carrier was two layers deeper than I went, so both are now next to the litter boxes in case of future evacuations. We’ll get a third carrier this weekend (the duffel bag went back to winter/baseball gear duties), and next time we’ll be ready. We were lucky – I know that – but the next time someone decides our garbage is looking a little uncharred, I’ll get all three damn cats out when the alarm goes off, and not let my vacation day laziness get the better of me.

I need a do-over for my vacation day. Today sucked a great deal of ass, and I am worn the fuck out.


10 thoughts on “lessons learned

  1. Oh sweetie, I’m so sorry you had to go through such a crappy situation! I had to deal with some jerk pulling the fire alarm once – scared the piss outta me. Thank God was located right beside a University, I needed a drink after that, that’s for sure! I’m just glad everyone’s safe and sound. *hugs*

  2. i’m glad everyone’s safe and ed was there for you. your recycling bin was very melty; but, i appreciate how lobby lady stayed outside on the bench with her giant bird cage for a little fresh air after everyone else went inside.


  3. OMG, I leave Twitter for a day and everything goes crazy. I’m SO glad you’re OK and the cats are OK and that it wasn’t an actual, you know, fire fire.

  4. Glad to know that you and the kitties are ok.

    I think I would have been just like you if I had to leave behind a pet. We had a fire alarm go off in my building, it wasn’t serious thank goodness but it definitely made me think about having the pet carrier in my apartment instead of in the storage room downstairs. I would not want to leave my bunny.

  5. I read the line “I left Cheddar behind” and tears sprung into my eyes. I would have felt exactly as you did.

    I’m so glad that everyone is okay and that you now have a new plan in place. My kitty cat carriers are in easy to grab places for exactly this worst case scenario.

    I also keep a pair of scissors in my bedroom dresser drawer in case a fire starts elsewhere in the condo while we are all tucked up in the bedroom in the middle of the night and we need to cut through the bedroom screen window to make our great escape. That may sound like crazy overkill but that scissor advice came from the same friend who expressed shock that I kept (past tense stressed) the kitty cat carriers in the storage room in the basement …

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