So here I am enjoying a rock'n-roll'n thunderstorm at my hotel late Tuesday night when BLAM! - our building sustains a direct hit from lightning. Then - lights out, alarms on.
Of course my first response was to reach up and try to remove the battery from the smoke alarm because IT WAS FREAKING LOUD! (Don't bother with the lecture, I know you're not supposed to touch them under penalty of law.) Unfortunately, it didn't have a battery and was powered by some kind of backup system. Bastards!
But I wasn't concerned that the hotel was actually on fire either because the alarm went off the instant the lighting struck, and I felt reasonably sure it was blaring only because of the power outage. But after about 5 minutes, I got tired of sitting on my bed in a dark room and decided it would be much more interesting to wander on down to the lobby and see what they had to say about it. Here's what the kid behind the desk was saying as soon as I came around the corner:
"I SMELL SMOKE! EVERYONE NEEDS TO GO OUTSIDE. NOW!!!"
Hmmm. That was a tough one. One look outside told me and the other 40 or so people standing there that going outside wasn't really an option. Most of us were standing around only in some form of sleepwear, and it was raining so hard outside that the rain was coming at the windows sideways. I heard one old woman say, "I'll go outside when I see flames, thank you."
So there we stood. And there we waited while the staff evacuated the entire hotel into the lobby space, eerily illuminated by only the emergency lights, while the nuclear-powered fire alarms screamed at an eardrum-bleeding decibel level.
And then - the troops arrived. Apparently our little incident qualified as a 3 alarm fire. Before I knew it 25 firemen came bursting through the front doors with their hoses, donned in oxygen masks and fully prepared to battle their way through the flames so they could rescue trapped mommies who were hanging their babies out of the 10th story windows.
The only problem was, we were a two story hotel, there were no stranded people hanging babies out of windows, and - oh yeah, one other small fact - THERE WAS NO FIRE!
I understand of course that everyone was just following standard operating procedure and all. But in our case it all came off as comical overkill. Here are 150 people who just want to go back to bed, standing around in a hotel lobby in their PJs while an entire volunteer fire department scoured the building in search of our desk clerk's mysterious smoke.
Finally after two hours of thermal scanning, sniffing and crawling around in the attic, the lights came back on and the fire chief issued the all clear. "So what was it?" I heard someone ask. "Oh, just a toasted breaker in the main service panel that took the brunt of the hit," the chief explained. "Nothing serious."
Nothing serious? Tell that to my co-worker. He was 4 rooms down from the service panel and was working on his computer when the lightning hit. He now has a fried laptop.
Sure, it's not "babies hanging out of the window" serious, but it sure screwed up his day.