Looking back to my school days, I have many memories (I mean, who doesn’t?), and there are many things I have long since forgotten. However, something I do remember happening at least twice a semester every year were the much anticipated fire and tornado drills. As a student, I always hoped they would happen during a class I was not looking forward to for whatever reason, whether it was the teacher, the students, the material, or a test. Sometimes we, as students, knew they were happening and sometimes we didn’t… which was to prepare us in case there actually was a fire or a tornado. In every classroom we had an evacuation map near the door that told us where we need to go, whether it was to the basement for a tornado or outside for a fire. As elementary school students, we had assemblies where we learned to “stop, drop, and roll”, to feel the door if it was hot with the back of our hands, and to crawl on the ground if there is smoke because the smoke rises. I’d say be second grade these drills had become second nature, so if there ever was a fire, we were well prepared. We also knew we had to be quiet and listen so we knew when we could go back to our classrooms and continue the day, or if we got to go home because something really was wrong (which only happened once, on Halloween, when I was in 2nd grade and there was something setting the alarm off and it wouldn’t stop). When I went to college, we did not have these drills but there were maps placed by every door and in the hallways (except when I went to study in France and we had a real-life scenario where they made smoke come out of a window and a fire truck come to school… but it was just to get us prepared). Needless to say, we were prepared for a real fire or tornado and I believe the amount of drills we had really would keep the school relatively calm in case something real did happen (plus, we rarely knew if it was real or fake so we had to act like it was real every time).
Well, something I noticed when I first came to my school in Moldova is not only do we not have evacuation maps, but we never once practiced what to do in case there was a fire. I’ve heard stories of the students practicing for bomb raids during the Soviet era, but I have never seen any sort of preparation… until today. The teachers were told there was going to be a bell rung 8 minutes before the end of the 4th lesson. It was up to them if they wanted to prepare their students to tell them what they were doing and why or not… and one of my partners chose to tell her students, and the other one did not. As someone came walking through the halls ringing a real bell (instead of pushing the button downstairs that rang the bell throughout the school), the partner I was teaching with told all of the students to stand up, gather their things, stand 2×2, and we were going to silently walk outside. As we were walking down the stairs, some students were walking up… oblivious to what was going on. Some teachers were still standing in the empty hallways chatting, and some had gone outside with their students, who were now running around and playing. There was no order, and for many, no explanation. They just knew they all had to go outside and the bell rung a few minutes early.
The good thing is there has been a drill, and we have a small school with 2 staircases in the main building and 1 in the other, so it’s easy to get outside regardless of what happens. However, this should have been an opportunity to teach the kids the importance of fire safety and organization during the drill.
This just made me realize, though, just how important drills are… whatever the circumstance. Not everyone can stay calm during a stressful and potentially dangerous situation, and the more the routine is practiced, the more it becomes second nature.