by Jon Mandle on January 4, 2007

The Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association had its annual meeting last week. This year it was in Washington, and for the second straight year I attended but went to exactly zero sessions – I was conducting interviews. But the real excitement was at 4:30 am on Saturday when the fire alarm went off in the hotel. I basically assumed somebody had pulled a switch in a drunken stupor, but my wife and I decided not to take the time to get our 6-year-old dressed, so we just wrapped her up in her sleeping bag and I carried her down the hall to the stairs. We definitely smelled something burning when we passed the seventh floor, and as we waited outside some people were saying that they had crawled through part of the hall on the seventh floor because the smoke was so thick. The rumor was that one woman was taken away by ambulance after breathing in smoke, but I didn’t see that.

After about an hour (I’m guessing – I didn’t have a watch), we were allowed to go into the ballroom where we waited for another hour before being allowed back into our rooms. On the ground floor, there was some water damage from the sprinklers on the seventh. On our way back to our room we peeked into the seventh floor where the smell of smoke was strong and several of the doors had been broken down. No word on how it started, but I’m sure grateful that the alarms and sprinklers worked.

Last spring I put up a post about Randy Cohen, the NY Times Magazine “ethicist”, and I quoted the following passage from his book: “real virtue lies not in heroically saving poor orphans from burning buildings but in steadfastly working for a world where orphans are not poor and buildings have decent fire codes.” Let’s hear it for decent fire codes.



JRoth 01.04.07 at 11:06 pm

Fire marshals and the like often claim that no lives have ever been lost to fire in a sprinklered building (WTC now representing a rather exceptional exception). I don’t know if it’s true, but I’ve never heard it debunked, either. Sprinklers are expensive and rather a dead weight building cost, but they’re also effective as all hell.


Kelly 01.05.07 at 1:06 am

Ack – I popped over via the RSS feed to make a tongue in cheek comment about Cohen, without knowing who’d authored this post. Definitely hooraying fire codes!


Michael Mouse 01.05.07 at 7:25 am

On a slight tangent, there’s all that debate about free speech (an obvious CT topic) that seizes on the example of shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre.

I’ve always thought that the moral analysis often fails to address the key question: whether the theatre is, in fact, on fire.


Matt 01.05.07 at 11:21 am

MM- the actual ine from Holmes’s opinion says that one should not be able to _falsely_ shout fire in a croweded theatre. People often forget that part, but it’s they who are dumb, not (in this case, anyway) the original.


Michael Mouse 01.05.07 at 12:50 pm

Should’ve known it was later corruption. I stand corrected!

(Unless there’s a fire, in which case I walk corrected, briskly but without panic, in the direction of the nearest designated fire exit.)


e 01.05.07 at 2:09 pm

I don’t like the term “dead wieght building cost” sprinklers save lives and property as in the aforementioned case.

In financial terms sprinklers are not that expensive $1.30 to $2.00 per square foot for a system. If a fire does break out in a sprinklered building your looking at substantially less in property loss in financial terms.


e 01.05.07 at 3:09 pm

That’s “I” before “E” except after “C” and except after neighbor and weight? Okay, I got it.

You academics make me nervous. I feel the need to be linguistically perfect ha!


Kenny Easwaran 01.05.07 at 6:47 pm

For a more entertaining look at the same events, look here.

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