Get Me Out of Here!
There are evacuation routes for hotels, hospitals, planes and schools. My little family even has a plan for emergencies – it’s called “grab the kids and run,” and we hope we’ll never need to use it.
I recently read that Disneyland security found a suspicious package near the park’s entrance and had to turn away a half-day’s worth of amusement seekers, who then were not so amused when, upon trying to leave the parking structure en masse, found themselves stuck in parking gridlock for hours.
I’ve written about Disneyland before, with its huge parking structure and precision parking plan, but I never thought about how they would handle the hungry hordes all at once and in reverse. It sounds as if they hadn’t thought of it either. It made me wonder, are there emergency procedures for parking garages?
While I was in college, my condominium caught fire. Some super-intelligent college student (not me or any of my roommates, I have to say) put charcoal ashes in a plastic garbage bin on her balcony. The next thing I know it’s 3 a.m. and my neighbor, fully dressed and talking on the phone with the fire department, is pounding on my door yelling, “Fire! Fire! Get out of the building!”
I staggered back to my room and looked around for things I should save, but none of my possessions seemed more compelling than the desire to flee.
I did have some insane idea that I might be forced to walk a long distance to safety – possibly across several states like the pioneers – so I threw on jeans and hiking boots under my nightshirt, but I forgot socks and a jacket.
I also forgot to tell my roommate we were evacuating. I would have left her behind completely, but she had wandered out of her room wondering what the commotion was, and when a third roommate could not utter a coherent answer, I calmly said, “The building is on fire,” and walked out the door. She screamed and followed me out in her pajamas. Then the fire alarm went off.
We were all gathered on the parkway in front of the building when the sprinklers went off. And this was February in Utah. Now soaked, freezing and terrified, but still stupid, I dashed under the building through the garage with a guy named Kevin to see the fire up-close and personal.
This 24-unit complex had a basement-level parking garage with two entrance/exits and a third that led to, and was the sole access route for, the small parking lot in the rear. In a move that could have killed us, but fortunately did not, Kevin and I came out of the garage directly under the burning first-floor balcony and saw that the gigantic flames had consumed the second-floor balcony above it, as well as the balcony, living room and roof of the third floor. We stared at the blaze in awe and disbelief. Then the fire department arrived.
In yet another dramatic twist, the firefighters couldn’t get their engine anywhere near the fire – it was too tall to go under the building and the back parking lot was fenced in. Sounds like poor planning to me, but I’m no expert.
The fire burned on while the firefighters turned off the gas lines and wound their hoses down the hall and up the switchback stairs. Long story shortened slightly, they eventually got the fire out, and around 8 a.m. let some of us go back to our apartments. Mine suffered only water damage, but my car, parked next to the stairwell entry, got a little dinged up because the firefighters had put their hoses, clunky fire hats, axes, clipboards and Egg McMuffins on its hood and roof.
One thing I never forgot about that horrible night, besides a feeling that I had faced one of my worst fears and come out of it remarkably unscathed, was the story of a guy named Mike. No, he was not one of the guys who barely got out of that top-floor unit with its living room and two exit routes entirely ablaze. No, Mike was not the brunette running down the hall screaming, “I swear the fire was out!”
No, Mike was the cocky guy with a really nice black Honda Accord and a leather jacket. He stood outside the building rattling his keys, and I asked him how he’d had the presence of mind to grab them (and a jacket) during such an emergency. He looked at me like I was an idiot, and I didn’t take it personally because he looked at everyone that way, and said, “I’m not leaving my freaking car down there if this building is coming down.”
He had also been calm enough to lock his front door, and that’s why the firefighters had chopped it down with their axes. I had left my front door wide open, and that’s why strange Keli from down the hall had walked inside my abandoned apartment and took my cordless phone so she could call her parents.
As I said before, my tiny Datsun was blocked in like a Matchbox car next to the hulking fire engine. All those hot (and I mean handsome and muscular) firefighters had used it as an end table, and I was just grateful they didn’t break its windows. I later wished it hadn’t been so abused, but I couldn’t have cared less during the crisis.
I often parked in the garage. I think there were at least 40 parking spots down there. But what if we had all run down there and tried to move our cars?
In the middle of peak hours for any parking structure – staffed or not – what is the policy for evacuating people with or without their vehicles? I don’t know, so I’m asking.
Melissa Bean Sterzick is an Amateur Parker and PT’s proofreader. She can be reached at Melissa@parkingtoday.com.