By Tran Phi Tuan
Most Vietnamese will react to fire alarm with indifference as the warning system is reputable for repeated ‘crying wolf’
Editor’s note: Tran Phi Tuan, who has moved between different apartment buildings in Ho Chi Minh City, explained why most Vietnamese often overlook fire alarm when it rings, in this piece sent to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper hot on the heels of an apartment fire that killed 13 on Friday.
One of the worst nightmares living in an apartment is when the fire alarm sets off.
My first unpleasant experience with fire alarm was in 2013 when I moved in a flat in District 2, Ho Chi Minh City with my family.
At that time, my wife had been pregnant for three months and I had to carry her on my back all the way down from the 11th floor to the ground.
The apartment complex had a total of 17 floors and all the tenants hurriedly filled the fire exits for escape.
Some lighted up the dark passageway with flashlights while others used their cell phones.
Upon reaching the ground safely, we were informed by a security guard that he didn’t see any fire and the alarm was triggered due to smoke from a resident burning joss papers.
Learning from that experience, I and other residents would look to see if there was really a fire before running down to the ground, whenever we heard the alarm.
If there was no fire, we would simply return to our flats. As a result, we have become accustomed to this ‘habit.’
My family and I later relocated to a flat in a different block of the same complex, this time on the 17th floor. About two months ago, I was having a shower in this apartment when I heard the alarm went off.
Having a hunch that the alarm could be real this time, I walked out to see if there was any fire, but saw nothing. However, as the fire alarm kept on ringing, I urged my wife and the kids to get out first and quickly followed them after putting on my clothes.
I ran down the fire exit and caught up with my family on the tenth floor. They were crying there as the passage was blocked by numerous junk discarded from a local tenant.
It took us a while to climb over the junk. When reaching the ground, we were informed by a female security guard that the fire alarm sounded because it had been being tested during a check by some ‘superior officials.’
In February, my family moved to yet another apartment, where the fire alarm sounds on a frequent basis – more than ten times a month, either in the afternoon or evening.
My flat is located on the 16th floor, so I am reluctant to run down to the ground when the fire alarm sounds. Learning from previous ‘crying wolf’ of the fire alarms, I simply look around for fire first. If there is no fire or smoke, I simply stay in the flat and luckily still survive.
The security guard at my place once told me that if the alarm goes off, but there is no official announcement via the loudspeaker systems, then we could safely stay in our apartment.
Since then, whenever the alarm rings for a short time, we simply stay inside. If it rings continuously, we may leave the flat, but will soon return if no announcement follows.
Hearing the shocking news of the deadly fire at Carina Plaza in District 8 on Friday, I feel thankful that luck was always there when I reacted to fire alarm with carelessness and indifference.
Just to consol myself, I believe it may be better that the alarm rings for no fire, than there is fire but no alarm, which is the case of the Carina Plaza.
But then I also feel uneasy when thinking what if the fire really occurs one day and I just ignore the alarm and stay inside as usual.
Poor me if that’s the case!