Monday, January 26, 2009

Security or Harassment?

Most laws have a good purpose. This must be true of the The Ontario Fire Code, the Regulation of the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, don't you think? Well let me tell you about the experiences due to this law that the tenants at 2100 Russell Road have recently endured.

Last week we were all given a notice that the fire alarm system in our building would be checked. This is not unusual. We get checked once a month - like it or not. We all accept it as a necessary evil. And trust me - the sound of these alarms is evil - a non-stop screech, both inside our apartments and out. And it lasts about 15 minutes. The screech inside the apartment can be shut off but the ones in the halls cannot and they are easily heard inside the apartments. So far though, all is endurable!

The notice said Thursday and Friday. We were prepared for our usual 15 minutes of hell. And because the yearly inspection of the individual alarms in our apartments was to be done also, we were prepared to let the fire department checkers inside our apartments to check our personal inside alarm. But I have yet to find one person who was prepared for what we got.

What we got was 6 hours of screeching alarms. There were brief periods of quiet, once in the morning and once in the afternoon - coffee break? and an hour of peace at noon.

Every apartment door was knocked on and if the tenant was home, the alarm screamed into action and then turned off. Knock on the next door, repeat the performance. For 6 Hours! Forget watching tv. Forget talking to your son or daughter. Forget reading a book. And thanks to the Ottawa Transit Drivers, forget about escaping.

Those of us who are perfectly sane, were about to loose it by dinner time. But we had a meeting with Housing that night to discuss Security (or so we thought!) so off we went to be further frustrated by Housing's obsession with bugs about which they talked for an hour. Bug are not a major problem at 2100 Russell Road. We went home disgusted, discouraged, frustrated.

It was while we were trying to deal with these feelings that the fire alarm went off at 11:30ish p.m. There are a variety of rumours about this alarm - it as a false alarm caused by one of the juvenile sorts around here for fun or it was done to summon medical help in lieu of picking up a phone and dialing 911. Either way, the timing was not appreciated. An out and out false alarm is totally unacceptable. And it is questionable if it is an acceptable way to summon an ambulance either.

So we go to bed, do more tossing and turning than usual - we are all, to a man, stressed out. But it is over! For the night. Friday, we get more alarms while they finish the checking. Some people only heard the ringing on their own floor; some of us heard those alarms for several floors. Scream, a moment's silence, Scream, a moment's silence, Scream, a moment's silence for at least another hour.

Did you ever wonder why some sane people turn to homicide? I think this must be pretty close to a defensible reason! Today - another alarm. Maybe a false alarm; maybe, as some people say, a real fire but one that could have easily been put out with a towel to smother it or baking soda. The rumour mill is busy on this one!

If we were P.O.W.'s in a war zone, we would be able, upon release, to take this form of torture up with the U.N. and International Law. But we are just tenants trying to live during peace times in Ottawa, Canada. This is cruel and unusual punishment!

And here is the real tick off. We get so many fire alarms here that very few people, if anyone at all, pays any attention. In the event of a real, massive fire, there would be bodies taken out of here just because this little exercise has been overdone. Sounds like crying wolf so we ignore the alarms, assume the Fire Department's doing a check or that it is a false alarm. The law, put in place to ensure that people get out of burning buildings will only, in the long run, assure that there will be more deaths due to this overkill and the lack of reaction it has produced.

Perhaps the worst thing I have learned through this little episode, is that most people here assume this is the doing of the Fire Department. The strong feelings of trust and appreciation for the Fire Department are shaky where they should not be anything but strong.

This is not totally the Fire Department's doing. This is the work of legislators who have ignored the fact that the numbers they look at in their pages of stats are really people. Flesh and Blood people.

A protection law designed by people that fails to protect people is not a good law. This law needs to be looked at realistically and lawmakers need to start making some connection between their numbers and the people those numbers represent. I believe that is called being empathetic! Try it! I know we will like it if you do.

Shame on you Ottawa! Shame on you, Ontario!

1 comment:

  1. I think it is horrifying to think that every time some jerk pulls a fire alarm for fun they are possibly signing someone else's death certificate. If someone else dies in a fire because the fire department was busy chasing a false alarm, can the jerk who pulled the false alarm be charged with murder?