What could be more exciting than a general alarm? How about a general alarm in the middle of the night when you are in a sleep so deep that once the blaring siren four feet above your bed wakes you up you're left wondering how long it's been going off. Seconds? Minutes? Longer? Hard to tell as you're jumping into a pair of crumpled jeans and slipping on steel toed boots while simultaneously reaching for a flashlight.
With the siren still ringing the urgency of the situation becomes clear even if your vision has not. "Please let this be a false alarm" is all I'm thinking as the stairs come rushing up to my feet three at a time. The damage control locker, where 4 sets of turnout gear, 4 self contained breathing apparatus and other emergency equipment is stowed, is only half full of the normal faces.
Rather than the alertness seen at drills everyone is pale, red eyed and confused. I tell the boson to take a muster, which I don't think he ever did, and then carry on down ten decks to the lowest hold on the ship straining to hear the radio until the siren is silenced by the captain on the bridge.
I arrive in the lower hold where the other two mates are and hear on the UHF that the fire panel was misread and that the activated detector is actually in the lower engine room. Now at a sprint I'm really hoping this isn't the real thing. My heart is pounding having been fully reclined two minutes ago and I'm pondering the chance of having a heart attack from such sudden exertion.
Entering the engine room I find the second assistant confusedly bouncing from detector head to detector head amongst lime green generators and purifiers looking for a little red L.E.D. This is a good sign; no smoke, no fire, no panic besides the captain's urgent request that the suspect detector is located.
Does this mean I don't have to race back up the ladder praying that the fire team has fitted themselves out in three minutes flat which is very unlikely? A few moments later the detector is located with no flame in sight. It's a false alarm and I'm a little older and exhausted for it. Five minutes later I'm back in bed sound asleep. How often do you get to go to work for ten minutes at a time in what could potentially be a life or death situation?
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