I've covered apartment building fires on my block twice before
, but I never wanted to write about one in my own building. Now I get the chance.
Last night, around 8:30, someone started ringing my apartment from the buzzer downstairs. This happens more often lately, as the numbers and the names on the door don't line up, so delivery people press my button by mistake. I didn't answer at first, but then I tried talking back to whoever was there. They wouldn't respond. I looked out my living room window and saw the manager of the Indian restaurant downstairs talking to a delivery guy and pointing at something in my building, upstairs from me. Next, I got a knock on the door. It was a woman from the restaurant, telling me that there was a fire in one of the apartments on the other side of the building and that they could see the smoke from the back of the restaurant. They'd called 911 already, so I tried not to panic. I put my shoes on and left a message for my super. I also got out my cat carrier just in case I'd have to evacuate for a while with my cat. I checked the hallway again and a woman from the apartment across the hall opened the door. She said that they'd had a little fire on the fire escape but it was OK now. Meanwhile, grayish smoke was drifting into the hallway from her apartment. I heard the fire trucks pull up outside and someone rang the door buzzer again so I let them in. By this time the women who live upstairs and across the hall were standing in their doorway, so I walked up to talk to them and another guy who lives upstairs. We watched the FDNY come in and check out the place. They carried out a large piece of charred wood that looked like a cross between a stool and a piano leg. A few of the firemen came up the stairs and one of them asked me "are you with them?" indicating the women. I said that I lived downstairs, across the hall. He said that the fire was out and that they were going to open the door to the roof for a while to vent some of the smoke. Then he asked the women if they smoked, and I think they said no. At this point, with the excitement over, I went back to my apartment, which of course now smelled like smoke. I opened one of my living room windows and turned on my kitchen fan to try and vent the smell.
It got a little more interesting. My apartment door was closed, but I could hear the FD and one of the women from the apartment arguing. She was complaining that the FD had broken one of their windows. A fireman turned on his radio and said "you'd better get up here. The tenant is complaining that we broke one of her windows, but she won't let us in to check it because it's a Japanese apartment and you can't wear shoes." I think my super and one of the firemen went inside, because I didn't hear the end of the discussion. I went back to my original plan for the evening: practicing the viola and watching "Heroes." After an hour my apartment was freezing, but only my clothes smelled of smoke.
When I first heard there was a fire in that apartment, I assumed it was a kitchen accident. They're always cooking something over there, though they usually have the door open to vent the smell when they do. Once I saw the blackened stool-like thing, and after the FD asked whether anyone smoked, my theory is that someone was smoking on the fire escape and somehow lit the wooden stool on fire. I'm glad no one was hurt, and the only damage was a few hours of smoke and cold air in my apartment. But let's not go through that again. I don't ever want to leave my apartment in that kind of situation, especially not when it's 25 degrees outside with a wind chill of "colder than a witch's teat." And I don't want to think about having to put my cat in his carrier in an emergency. I think it's time I invested in a small fire extinguisher for my kitchen. I've never had a fire while cooking, but I should be prepared just in case.