We’d been pretty relaxed about fire safety, until this happened…

20 Oct 2021
By Ellie M., Post-grad at University of Glasgow

Ellie and her flatmates didn’t take fire safety too seriously – until one broke out at her student property. Here’s her story.

‘Surely it can’t be that time already?’ I thought to myself as my alarm clock slowly brought me back to the conscious world. ‘It feels like I’ve only just gone to bed!’ As I awoke, I realised the incessant whirring sound wasn’t my alarm at all. ‘They must be testing the fire alarms’ I thought, ready to drift back to sleep.

‘But they do that on Wednesdays, and I’m sure it’s Friday because I have a lecture at 9am…’. I grumbled at the thought, and gradually grew more confused about this odd string of events that I was experiencing with both eyes still closed. ‘I’ll have to wake up and check my phone and see what day it is. If I’ve got it mixed up, I can go back to sleep.’ I wearily reached over, clicked on my phone screen, and managed to open one eye…

2.07am.

Suddenly, I was very much awake. ‘Why is the fire alarm going off at 2am, there’s no way they would test it at that time?!’ Next thing I knew, someone was hammering on my door.

‘ELLIE, WE HAVE GOT TO GO!’

I threw myself out of bed, grabbed a jumper, and darted towards my door. Three of my flatmates were in the hallway, obviously having woken up much faster than I had. There was still one of us missing, the girl in the room next to mine. We were pretty sure she was home and there was no way we were going to leave her there if there was an emergency. The four of us stood there banging on her door and shouting her name, and thankfully she finally emerged, still half asleep. With that, we flung open the door to the stairs and dashed out where we made our way outside with dozens of other half-dressed, half asleep, rather confused first years.

Two fire engines and a whole building of students were already outside. Two other fire engines were just pulling into the road and firemen were dashing around and disappearing into the building next to ours. A member of staff called out our names to make sure everyone was there, then led us into the main building to save us from standing outside in the middle-of-the-night autumnal air.

As we sat around indoors, chatter about the cause of the fire made its way around each of the huddled groups. Most believed, considering the time and day, someone had come home from a night out and fallen asleep while making some toast. People groaned about being woken up for such a small, careless mistake and debated as to whether they were even going to attempt to make it to their 9am lecture later that day. The two-building evacuation and four fire engines felt a bit overkill, and we were all eager to get back to bed.

We sat there for over an hour, wondering why we hadn’t been let back in yet. The firemen started to emerge and whisper to the staff on duty. With concerned looks on their faces, the staff approached one group in particular. Clearly the fire had begun in their flat, but they were all in pyjamas and didn’t look like they had just come home. Gradually it came to light that the fire had been much more serious than a wisp of smoke.

The Cause

It had been no one’s fault. The whole thing was started by an electrical problem in an oven. I can still vividly remember the photo I saw of this kitchen; completely and utterly black. The cupboards had all burned away revealing the surviving metal pans inside, the countertops had fallen apart, and you could still see the smoke clinging to the air. The students were moved to another accommodation building and the ovens were replaced in every single flat. We had been evacuated because the kitchen that caught fire was attached to our building, and later we realised, specifically our flat, so I believe we did the right thing in making sure our flatmate got out with us.

The whole experience was eye opening for us. Up until that point, I think we had all been quite relaxed about fire safety. You know, just don’t do anything dumb like come home drunk and fall asleep while cooking. And while that rule still applies, this proved that we had to think beyond that as things could become much more serious.

Things to remember

Thankfully, no one was hurt, but if our alarms weren’t tested weekly, or we didn’t have a plan for evacuating the building, or we didn’t have an assembly point, or we didn’t know who was at home to make sure everyone was out, then it could have ended very badly.

I have carried this thought across to every flat I have lived in since, always making sure we were doing the right thing to keep ourselves as safe as possible. And of course, thinking about what I could do personally too – like making sure not to leave my phone charger turned on when I’m not using it, never leaving candles lit when I’m not in the room, and double checking I’ve turned the cooker off in the kitchen.

These are all really simple steps but can count for a lot in the long run. If you’re ever unsure about the rules or fire safety plan in your building, make sure you contact your landlord or accommodation provider to find out.

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Crafter, casual gamer, and future forest ranger. I'm Ellie and I graduated from the University of Glasgow in 2021 with a degree in Film Studies and Theatre. I grew up in rural Aberdeenshire and am still trying to figure this ‘adult’ thing out.