I used to work the evening shift when I worked as an R.N. in Connecticut ages and ages ago. That was a great shift to work. Work started at 3:00 and ended at 11:30. I picked that shift because that way I never had to miss church on a Sunday. It made for long Sundays when I did have to work, but it was a great way to make sure I didn't miss church.
One evening, I saw some wisps of what looked like smoke coming out along a ceiling tile right in front of the nurses station. I saw it in more than one place. I called the maintenance man who was well known to all the nurses right away to have him come take a look. He was a nice guy. He came right up to the third floor where I worked. The hospital was a community hospital and there were only three floors. He looked at it and said not to worry that it was "just a ballast" than had gone out. Being the trusting soul that I am (or was), I said "fine," and went about my work.
It wasn't too long after that, certainly within the half hour as I recall, that the blare of fire trucks were heard racing to the hospital. It wasn't just one fire truck mind you, but a whole slew of them. You guessed it, it sure wasn't a "ballast" as I had been told. It seems the unoccupied second floor directly beneath my floor was on fire. It was in the old obstetrics wing and the delivery room had somehow caught on fire. This was not a little fire, nope, this was a significant fire because it had gone on for sometime unnoticed because it was in an unoccupied wing.
I well remember how difficult it was to reassure the patients that the fire department told us that they would have it under control and that the patients were safe. I remember one man in particular who was obviously much smarter than I was who came out in the hall where I was and told me he was leaving because we were all in danger. Well being the good nurse that I was, I told him he couldn't leave. Now that was a dumb thing to say, really it was. What I should have said was, "You lead the way...I'm right behind you." But I must have looked somewhat authoritative or reassuring or calming or something in my nurses cap because I somehow convinced him to stay.
We were given frequent updates as we obviously needed to know what was happening for the safety of the patients. The firemen did a great job just as they promised us they would. They put the fire out and indeed, we were all safe. Safe... yes, calm, no... traumatized, definitely yes.
Quite a while passed and the nursing supervisor came up to our floor to report, especially to me because I was the first one to see the smoke. I can still see her face and her somewhat sooty nurses' cap. She had soot on her face and clothes and especially near her nose. She was a sight to behold. She and the maintenance man and I rehashed that story several times. The maintenance man kept saying how he was sure is was "just the ballast" and I kept saying, "you know, my Dad always told me that if you see smoke, there's always a fire." (My Dad was a volunteer fireman). The supervisor just wanted to relive the events leading to her "evening's excitement." We rehashed that story for days to come.
The maintenance man and I became good friends after that. He was an older man, probably in his 60's by then. He was good to me and I had no doubt that if I asked for anything, he would be right there.
I have never liked fires. I have experienced more than one frightening situation involving scary fires. That is the only time that the threat of harm was very real though. I just remember being grateful for all those firemen roaming the halls in their gear. They kept coming to check on us and reassure us. Brave, brave men for wimpy, wimpy people like me.
Moral of the story:
If you see smoke, it's no joke...
somewhere there's a fire. :)