Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Where There's Smoke, There's Fire

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This morning I heard of another cruise ship with a fire on board. More fires, or more event coverage? Hmmmm...

In the late 1980's my wife and I were houseparents at a children's home in Chattanooga. We oversaw seven boys aged 8 through 17. All of us, including our 4 yr. old son and our college-student assistant Roger, lived in a 5,500 sq. ft. house that had an attached "apartment" for our privacy. The goal was to create an environment that was as normal as possible for the boys.

Late one night (about 2:30 am) I awoke to the sound of the three youngest boys outside our door whispering, "What if they're asleep?", "Should we wake them up?", and "I think Uncle Brad might get mad..."

I called out, "Boys, what are you doing out of bed?" One of them responded, "Uncle Brad, I think there's smoke in the house."

I got up, opened the door separating our apartment from the rest of the house and found the entire house filled with smoke, so thick that I could barely see five feet in front of me even with all of the lights on.

I quickly pulled the fire alarm, told the boys to go out to our designated emergency meeting place, and had my wife Elaine get our son. I proceeded to go room by room to gather the other, older boys. One of the boys would not wake up after repeated efforts to rouse him both by myself and by Roger who had joined me in the evacuation efforts.

We assumed the worst.

Finally, he woke up and asked, "Where did all the smoke come from?" We quickly got him up and out of the house with the rest of our family.

The fire department arrived and went through the house looking for fire. They didn't find any. But they did find the source of the smoke: One of the motors in the A/C system had begun to smoke as the result of friction, and the air handler continued to run, forcing smoke throughout the house. (Our apartment was on an entirely different A/C system and therefore we didn't have any smoke in there.)

An investigation into why the smoke alarms didn't sound revealed that the boys had pilfered the batteries from them for their toys, walkie-talkies, etc. Oooops.

What did I learn from this experience:

  • Having a plan proved effective. Emergency meeting place.
  • Some plans don't always affect everyone. The boy who would not wake up.
  • Different systems will affect different parts of an organization. Separate A/C units.
  • Make sure as a leader I am approachable. The younger boys hesitant to wake me.
  • Periodically check your resources. The missing smoke alarm batteries.

Question: What other lessons could be learned from this experience? Do you have any experiences that taught you lessons? Share your thoughts below in 'comments'.

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