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Cause for alarm

October 17, 2016
by Kathleen Mears
| Reprints

One evening after the residents' supper, the fire alarm went off. I was in my room with my feet up in bed, working on my laptop. I thought maybe it was just a drill. Then, I wondered if a resident had pulled it out of frustration. Since false fire alarms can happen, I never know whether to heed the fire alarm. But, several minutes later, as I worked on my laptop the fire alarm was still ringing.

During my years living in nursing homes, I have sat through many fire alarms. Usually reluctantly. I knew I had to prevent other residents and visitors from getting upset. I have seen the scared look in visitors’ eyes when the fire alarm goes off and the fire doors close with their loved one behind them—and then nothing moves. Many times, I have told visitors it was just a drill whether or not I knew that for sure.

Since I am at one end of the hall, there is no way for me to know what is happening on the other halls unless I am in my power chair in the hallway. Trying to ignore the fire alarm denies my self-preservation instinct. I had to stop myself from putting on my call light so I could ask what was going on. If it was an emergency situation, or a drill, I knew the staff did not need to add answering my call light to the confusion. So I waited. Several minutes later, the fire alarm went off. No one came to my room. I didn’t hear fire truck sirens. I didn’t smell smoke. I figured it was just a drill.

Later, when my aide came in to get me ready for sleep, I asked why the fire alarm was on. She told me there had been a fire drill. I laughed and told her how anxious I had been. I suggested that second shift could announce the "all clear" on the public address system after the drill is over as they do on day shift.

Kathleen Mears


Kathleen Mears has been a nursing home resident in Ohio for 21 years. She is an incomplete...