Janet Urquhart: Just another chaotic afternoon
July 19, 2002
It’s a miracle you’re reading this, what with all the excitement at the offices of The Aspen Times yesterday.
Somebody (I’m thinking it was the plumber, in the camera room, with a soldering gun) lit the building on fire. What ensued was a kind of chaos that was, in retrospect, only slightly more chaotic than a typical busy afternoon around here.
I think our first clue that something might be amiss was the smoke pouring out of a wall, but the office manager assured us “it’s only soldering” in a tone that implied we were all acting like wussies, which we were.
Except Paul Conrad, the mild-mannered photographer who clambered up one the many piles of crap we store around and peered down on flames in the labyrinth of walls and spaces we call an office.
That’s when we all filed out of the building in an orderly fashion.
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The sighting of actual flames finally convinced someone to call the fire department, something the edgier of us had been clamoring for for what seemed like an eternity.
Paul elevated himself to hero status by emptying the contents of a fire extinguisher on the flames. The act was later pronounced “a miracle.” I thought it was a miracle we had a functioning fire extinguisher on the premises.
We all managed to exit the building, dogs in tow, though our emergency evacuation plan is still in the draft stage. Several of us managed to evacuate two or three times, as we went back in to grab personal effects, bikes and skateboards.
I even saved the story on my screen and shut down my computer. Hey, what reporter wouldn’t risk his or her life to keep from having to rewrite 6 inches of already composed copy?
None of us managed to actually grab a notebook and pen, however, hampering our ability to report on our own fire, even though we were first on the scene.
Actually, we all kept our heads, as evidenced by the quick collection of cash for libations once we’d gathered outside in the grass next to the Hotel Jerome. What’s a blazing inferno without a cold beer?
Our fire never had a chance to explode into a real conflagration, though, despite the plentiful fuel load we keep on hand in the building. Aspen’s volunteer firefighters hooked up their hoses, put on their masks and entered the back door off the alley, only to find themselves knee-deep in newspapers we’d stacked up in anticipation of a recycling run. Oops.
Seriously, though, you never really realize how fantastic the fire department is until something of yours is on fire. One minute, smoke is rising out of the roof and you’re wondering if your resume is up to date, and the next thing you know, the blaze is out and the fire chief is politely explaining what a miracle it is the building is still standing.
It wasn’t a miracle, it was the excellent work of the firefighters (and Paul, the photographer), who all earned a round of applause.
After a tour of the fire scene, contained to one wall in the old camera room, those of us who still had electricity feeding our computers went back to work. The rest had to shuffle computers around and plug in somewhere else.
My eyes are burning a bit as I write this, but all is intact in my corner of the world.
Ah, just another day at The Aspen Times.
[Janet Urquhart never plays with matches. Her column appears on Fridays.]
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