It says a lot about the place I live that when I hear an alarm go off in the building the first thing I think is, "what idiot did that?"
Since it didn't stop right away - usually a smoke alarm goes off somewhere in the building once a week - I checked to see if it was my smoke alarm, and lo, and behold, it was the building alarm. Oh, right, so it's an emergency. Since it was clearly not the alarm that tells me the city needs to be saved from supervillains, and nothing in the immediate vicinity was demanding my attention via the time-honoured technique called "being on fire", I sighed with resignation and grabbed my coat, phone and handbag and headed outside.
My flat is situated on a stairwell, and there was smoke out there at what you could call ceiling height if it was at all possible to have a proper ceiling in a stairwell. Since it was coming from the main hallway and not up from down below, I descended. "Right," I thought as I went down the steps, "the building is on fire."
A few people were outside, arguing over who should call the fire department. Seeing someone start to dial, I left them to it and crossed what passes for a lawn here (lawns are usually flat) to wait. After a few minutes there were sirens in the distance. I was mildly put out there were no flames coming out of the building. There was no dramatic scene to watch, not even plumes of smoke. At least with a blazing inferno it would have been warm. Summer is ending here, and it's cold when the wind gets up. At least I wasn't bare-legged in a plaid mini skirt, as one woman was.
Eventually, after a lot of figuring out how to park, milling about, and getting ready in case there was serious fire fighting to do, one of the fire crew told everyone that the phone booth inside the foyer had been set on fire and the smoke had gone right through the building. They were going to pump the smoke out and let everyone back in. At this point I noticed there were still people coming out of the building - forty five minutes after the alarm started. It's a good thing it wasn't a real fire.
Around this point, half an hour after the whole business started, I saw a car with a security company logo on the side drive past. Closing the gate after the horse has bolted is clearly the way to go when it comes to security in a residential building. I looked around at the crowd, and noted that most people were standing around looking very annoyed. I've only been living here a few months, so I was only mildly irritated.
When I finally got back inside, I was overjoyed to hear the alarms were still on. Naturally, the noise stopped just after I dug a pair of headphones out and sat down to write this. At least the front door is a smoke stop and the place doesn't reek of burnt telephone and charred phone book.
The thing about all this is, I live in one building in a housing complex. This has happened before - people setting phone booths on fire and "causing a disturbance". I found this out a few weeks ago when I was grabbing the community newspaper from under the bench to wrap up peelings in. Apparently this place is a target for vandalism (surprise, surprise), but nothing actually gets done about it. Not even telling the people living here that, "Hey! You live in a big fat target!". I guess the council thinks it is okay to ignore this problem because the buildings are largely concrete and therefore cannot burn down easily.
Hilariously enough, the fire exits - the doors at the bottom of the stairwells (yes, I live in a fire escape) - open from the outside. Anyone can walk into the building from any of approximately twenty different entry points, at any time of the day. I'm amazed worse things haven't happened yet.