Fire Safety: An Alarming Anecdote

In this month's letter from the editor, Parents' Liz Vaccariello shares her own fire-safety story.

Liz Vaccariello Black Dress Sitting
Photo: Grace Huang

The fire alarm screamed in the hallway of my New York apartment building. I jolted awake, disoriented. It was 3 o’clock in the morning on an icy February night in Battery Park City. Steve and I were in the pre-kid stage of our lives and he was traveling on business. I had never heard the sound in our years there, and we’d never had a drill.

Instinct kicked in. I stuffed my feet into house slippers, grabbed a down coat and our wedding album (my only irreplaceable possession), felt the door for heat, then flew down the 15 flights of stairs to the lobby. Alarm still wailing, the doorman looked at me standing there with the oversize photo album clutched to my chest, awaiting instructions.

“It was a false alarm,” he said kindly. “You can go back to bed.”

My face flushed. I looked around at the empty lobby. Thousands of people lived in my building, and I was the only one who took that fire alarm seriously.

“Oh you’re adorable,” my new friends at my magazine job said when I told them the next day. They might have been making light fun of me, but my boss made me the floor’s new fire warden. (“Just the person for the job,” she declared.)

Have you noticed that somewhere between childhood and grown-uphood obeying a fire alarm stops being cool? As moms, let’s agree to change that! I don’t want my daughters to ever hesitate on fire safety. When we stay in a hotel, we look over the emergency-exit map on the back of the door. At home, no candle is left unattended (and for our pumpkins we use battery-powered votives). I hope you’ll feel as motivated as I am by our 7 Fun Days to a Fire-Safe Family story to make fire safety part of your family’s routine.

I’ve also given myself my own attitude adjustment toward fire safety. When I tell my apartment-alarm story now, I don’t spin it as “silly me.” My daughters are listening. Something deeply ingrained in me over the course of my life got me out of that bed that night and made me take that alarm seriously. I’m proud of my younger self.

So was that doorman.

“Wait, am I really the only person who came downstairs ready to evacuate?” I had asked him before heading back to the elevators.

“Yes,” he said, nodding. “And good for you.”

I invite you to e-mail me at You can also follow me on Instagram and Twitter.

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