So today was like any Tuesday. My 6th graders were learning about “Don’t use bad words.” My coteacher asked them, “What else can’t you use?”
One student said, “Don’t use the fire.” Another said, “Don’t use the lighter.”
This turned out to be nearly prophetic, as today was a Fire Drill day.
I should have suspected something when my coteacher told me she had to go to the gym for a meeting.
She came back and wrote a note on the board while the students were reading.
“Let’s talk about open class at 4. I have to go gym. I am a patient for fire training.”
I’m not sure why, but this made sense at the time.I thought she’d pretend to be a victim or something, while the principal talked about what to do in a fire. I pictured her chilling in the gym. If it were me, I’d fall asleep on the gym floor.
So she leaves, I read with the kids, and around 3:30, I hear an announcement. They usually end after like 10 seconds, but this one kept going…and going… and going.
Then, one of my students runs to the window, and sees a fire truck. There’s a fire hose, spraying water at the building.
“Teacher, FIRE!” He shouts. All the kids are now at the window.
“It’s not a real fire, it’s just practice.” How can I explain to the kids not to panic? From our window, we can’t see what the fire truck is spraying. Why is there water involved? And where is the truck getting the water when there’s no hydrant in the yard?
My coteacher said fire “training.” She’d tell me if I had to evacuate the building, right?
“No, REAL FIRE!” The kids are now shoving their pencil cases into their bags and heading out the door.
Since they speak Korean, I’m assuming they could understand the announcement. So I start to panic. Their screams aren’t helping.
We head outside, and see the fire hose spraying class 1-3.
“Teacher, class 1-3 is ON FIRE!” one student screams.
As if on cue, class 1-3 stampedes past the fire hose, giggling. Several of them wave, and then run back into the supposedly “burning” school.
One guy has what looks like a propane tank that’s spraying fire in the middle of the yard. Behind him, 6th graders are playing soccer, unperturbed by the open flame. Then. one of the first grade teachers runs up to the flame and douses it with a fire extinguisher. The smoke resulting from the spray gets the kid’s attention.
I see teachers running out of the building, helping and carrying other teachers into the year. I see my coteacher being supported by two other teachers, who help her walk to safety. That must be what she meant by “patient.”
I think back to all the fire drills I’d been subjected to in my life. None of them were this interesting, this well planned or dramatic. I lived in a dormitory that had smoke sensitive alarms, which were placed right outside the bathrooms. Shower steam could, and often did, trigger the alarms. The other triggers were pot smoke and college students who couldn’t cook. Instead of replacing the alarms, my school instituted a $75 fine and a fire safety course if you set it off multiple times.
At this time, the students had figured out that it was, in fact, a drill. And now we were outside, with 5 minutes left in class, and kids were playing soccer.
Somehow, we all made it back to class. I worried my co-teacher had seen me out in the yard while she was being a “patient”, but there was an alarm going off, and the announcement made it impossible to teach.
After posting about this on Facebook, my friends asked me what was the point of it. What can you learn from teachers pretending to die, a fire truck randomly rinsing off parts of the building, and a fire extinguisher demonstration? I’m not sure. Don’t play with matches?
The only thing I’ve learned is that my apartment doesn’t have a fire alarm.