Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Friday, 3 July 2009

July 3rd 2009, Friday. Got up, had breakfast, chatted with the roommates, went to the gym, stopped by the bar where Jess works for a quick drink and then headed home.

It was a little after 9:30 p.m. and I had just taken the dogs for a walk. Courtney and I had just started another episode of Dexter when some people were yelling outside. In Harlem this is not unusual but what made me remember it is that it was so loud we had to pause Dexter...how rude! A few minutes later I paused Dexter again. This time because I thought I smelled smoke. My roommate thought so too. We walked around the apartment trying to figure out what could be burning. Then she opened the front door. She screamed because the hallway lights were out and the hall was filled with smoke. We grabbed the dogs (3 in all) and ran to my room, furthest away from the door and at the front of the building. We stuck a towel under the door and opened the windows.

Our street already had firetrucks and more and more kept coming. We were crying and looking around, trying to figure out what was going on. We were in an apartment on the 8th floor on the right side of the "U" shaped building. The fire was on the 5th floor on the left side of the "U".

First there was just smoke billowing out of the window. (It must have been an amazing site from the south side of the building where most of the windows are. We could only see the one window on the front of the building.) We were watching the smoke and then suddenly there were huge flames shooting out of the window. That really freaked us out! Although I knew that the fire couldn't spread to us because it would have to travel 3 floors, our door was closed and the construction of the building is such that it restricts fire, my roommate was freaking out so much that it did get me riled up for a bit, especially when I couldn't get a hold of my mom. (I did get her by calling her home number and the first thing I did was yell at her for not having her cell phone with her!)

After what seemed like forever, water started shooting out of the window, replacing the flames. (Something that I JUST NOW REALIZED: While watching the event, I couldn't figure out how the firemen had gotten into the apartment to be shooting water out of the window......but the south side of the building is ALL WINDOWS. They could have gone in any one of them. A perfect example of where certain logic and reasoning skills disappear to while in a crisis!)

During all the mayhem, I couldn't find Charlie Parker (my cat) anywhere. My mom told me he'd be fine but I left my room 3 or 4 times to try to find him, each time with my shirt covering my nose and mouth, and the last time even covering my eyes. Our apartment was so filled with smoke that you could hardly see and it stung like crazy. On my last trip out, I had made sure that the front door was unlocked so the fire department could come in.

Finally, my dog started barking at my bedroom door. We opened the door a crack and a fireman was walking through our apartment. He made sure we were all okay and told us to open all the windows and keep the door open for maximum air circulation. While we were getting our instructions, Harper, Jess' dog, made a run for it. I didn't notice at first but did a quick count and he was gone.

I ran out of the apartment and started heading down. At each landing I asked a fireman about a black dog and I was told he had gone down, down towards clean air. Finally a fireman said that another guy had carried him outside. I dashed down the dark stairs and into the night. I saw a fireman holding Harper outside of the crime scene tape. I got him and proceeded to receive a lecture about tags on dogs. I didn't go into it, but his tags are on his collar in the house because he (normally) doesn't ever leave the house without it.

I headed back into the building wearing sandals, not appropriate post-fire footwear because of the enormous amount of glass everywhere, and carrying Harper, a 25 pound dog. I'd dashed out so fast I hadn't thought to bring his leash....but I couldn't have set him down in all the glass anyhow.

On the way back up, I ran into another black dog, Vagabond. I told the firemen that I knew the dog but not where he lived, but I would take him. Of course I couldn't carry him because I already had Harper. I was able to get Vagabond to follow me up a couple of flights but after that he got distracted. I found out later that Vagabond belonged to the burnt out apartment and that another woman found him and took him in for the owner.

Jess got home during the fire and had to stay behind the police tape. Some asshole told her that the black dog, Harper, was dead. Of course she freaked out and called Courtney. All Courtney knew was that I had run out of the apartment looking for Harper but hadn't returned yet. I didn't have my phone on me because it all happened so fast. That, of course, made Jess freak out even more. When I came home Courtney told Jess that Harper was fine and Jess was able to get back into the apartment shortly after that.

Our apartment doesn't really smell anymore. The dogs do, maybe they'll get baths today. The hallways of the building REEK like smoke and although they've been cleaned once, are still gross. One of the elevators has a metal interior which has some pretty neat discoloration from the smoke. Many of the windows on the stair landings are broken out from the firemen bringing in air.

And....how did the fire start? A French masseuse on the 5th floor (Vagabond's mom) lit a candle, went into the kitchen for something, came back and the curtains were on fire. From there everything went up pretty quickly. She ran out, LEFT HER DOG AND LEFT THE DOOR OPEN. In our building, if the door was closed, the fire would have been nicely contained. Instead, the fire spread to the hallway, trapped many residents in their apartments (everyone from the 5th floor to the 10th floor because of the amount of smoke!), and filled the whole building with smoke. (and how do you leave your dog?)

~~The pictures I took with my camera during the blaze didn't turn out well because the flash was going off and I didn't have the brain power to change the settings. But my camera has a wrist strap so it wasn't until after the major event that I took out my phone to shoot pictures when I wasn't shaking anymore. It is the phone pictures that I'm posting because they look so much better.~~

All day Saturday there were firetrucks pulling up in front of the building, checking things out. Apparently our building is being used as some sort of example of bad preparedness. A.) no emergency lighting came on. B.) there is a standpipe on each floor THAT DOESN'T WORK. C.) I heard NOT ONE fire alarm going off the entire time. (These are just the things that I noticed or was told about...who knows what else is wrong!)

I've heard many grumblings from people, the younger residents, looking to move ASAP. I can't figure that out. After this event, it would seem that the management company would have to put in a lot of safely features, very soon making this a very safe building. And, even without those features, this building is built so solid that no one should really be that panicked. People are crazy.

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