When is an emergency an emergency?

Our school fire alarm went off today, and it was a real fire.

It was also 4:00.

We joked in the staff room and had a look outside at the nice weather and wondered what the protocol was. Minutes later we were told it was for real and had to herd stray pupils off site, close windows, go out to the field and wait for the news.

The fire brigade came and went to the new block, where smoke had been issuing from an office. The noise was unrepentant.

A group of girls sat in a circle and practiced their violin piece. One of them asked if she would be allowed a new music text book and exercise book if hers got burnt.

Our Head, taking full authority, voiced instructions through a loud hailer at a distance usually requiring full-voiced authority. We, the cleaning staff, the teaching staff, the musicians, the detainees and those supposed to be finalising coursework would be allowed in to the main block when the fire brigade had ensured it was safe.

When the noise subsided, or unless we felt the need to leave sooner, we did. I didn’t have the stomach to sit and mark books in my room after all the fuss. Or maybe after a lovely few minutes out of doors. I packed up, walked back to my car, passing year 11 girls flirting with phone cameras and firemen in the second fire engine, and drove home.

This was not an emergency, although I hope valuable work and papers were not actually burnt. They were having trouble identifying the source of the fire; not electrical? (I suspect the sunlight may have hit the window and gone through a glass, as the angle was right at the time. Who knows?)

It felt a bit like that when dad had his heart attack. On so many levels we all had to keep going and get on as if there were no emergency. If you wallow, you stay muddy. If you pick yourself up, there is a hope of moving on somewhere.

I have been proud of how mum and dad have picked themselves up and decided to eat healthily, take exercise seriously and develop new things. This week dad had a golf lesson – a Christmas present from mum. He enjoyed it too.

Emergencies are often short-lived, very localised, and shocking. But then so are first driving lessons, thunder storms and giving birth. After the event we forget and move forwards.

I’ll be interested to see how many pupils take tomorrow off, thinking reports of a fire there means a closure. The younger you are, the more strange events appear to be emergencies.

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