>Mainly, the problems you’ll encounter will be the direct result of simple misunderstandings, pride, or just simple ignorance, but, more often than you’d think, you’ll come across a person or persons unknown who will deliberately and perhaps maliciously exploit fire exits and fire exiting strategies for their own selfish needs. You may not think it will happen to you, and indeed it may not have happened yet to anyone you talk to, but let me make one thing clear: It Will Happen To You.

My first experience, luckily or otherwise came early in my career. I was a rookie, a greentop, a regular Johnny chump-chow. This was back in the day before your electronic status alerts, your remote systems identification tags. This was me, a walkie-talkie and a back pocket full of street smarts. I was three weeks deep into my first job as fire security officer at The Chelsea Royale, a hotel you may know today as The Royal Chelsea, four stars to the brim, forty stories to the sky. Back then, of course, The Royale was only eleven stories, and had a reputation that didn’t exactly encourage families to visit on a whim.

Moreover, the fire safety, when I arrived, was disappointing to say the least. The evacuation plan, I discovered in my first week, was a pencil sketch on the back of a beer coaster thumbtacked to the staffroom wall. Do you know what it said? It said, In case of fire, get out of the hotel. Needless to say, this more than rankled principles. I was fresh, no doubt, Academy polish still shining my boots, but this was just dangerous. Which is not to say the Royale was totally negligent. They had to accommodate basic industry standards—extinguishers, alarms and the like, but their equipment was years old, and God knows if they’d know what to do with it should an emergency arise.

According to a bellboy I talked to, the Royale had experienced–amazingly—only a handful of fire-related incidents in its long history, culminating in only one slightly singed bathroom in room 412, and no serious injuries. Lucky, I thought, as I began my initial safety checks and procedural implementations.

But let me be clear. I have not come here today to heap scorn on an uneducated hotel. In a way, they had been failed by the same system I represented. I endeavoured to change this. By the time I had entered the forth month of my position as The Chelsea Royale’s Fire Safety Officer, there systems and procedures were, to put it in today’s parlance, cutting edge. The first real hurdle I came to, the hurdle that was my first real world lesson, is what I really wish to tell you about.


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