Friday, January 2, 2009

Don't Go Up In Smoke

What if you lived in a nine floor high-rise building and used a wheelchair for mobility. Your own personal safety during a fire or other emergency would be a concern. But then, you would think that you weren’t the first to think of it, and of course the fire department would know how to get you out; they would have a plan.

Someone raised that issue to our local action team. Other people who lived in the same building were also at the meeting. As they talked, it became evident that each person had a different idea of what they were supposed to do; some didn’t have a clue about what to do.

They also said that the fire alarm goes off sometimes several times a day. Sometimes the alarm would sound on one floor, but not another.

Our action team took on the issue; determine the fire/emergency procedures and make sure everyone in the building knew what they were.

The Plan

We developed objectives. They were:

  1. Get a copy of the fire/emergency plan from the landlord.
  2. Share the copy of the plan with the residents of the building.

We determined that if we needed friends or allies in to reach our goal we would use the Fire Department, State Fire Marshall and the Media.

One of the residents volunteered to get us a copy of the plan. Another member of the action team said she would call the fire department and get their plan. We did not think it would be a big deal to accomplish this goal; we just needed clarification and spreading of the information.

The Barriers

A few days later, the volunteer went to the office and requested a copy of the fire/emergency plan. I kid you not, she said, “You cannot see the plan unless you get permission from the owner.” What the %)#&!?

The action team member asked the next most obvious question, “How do I get permission from the owner to see the fire/emergency plan that affects my life?” The office manager replied that there was really no way to reach him since he was in Dubai. Dubai? Double what the %)#&!?

The building owner, William Cellini, was on an extended offshore hiatus to avoid answering embarrassing questions about his relationship with Tony Rezko and other infamous politicians in Illinois (including Blago).

The team member who called the fire department did not fare much better. The public safety officer told her that if there was a fire, each resident should stay in their unit; the fire department would come and get them if necessary. Can I say triple what the %)#&!?

All of a sudden, the team felt like Yossarian in Catch-22. We had to re-group.

The Plan, Revisited

Confronted with the reality that no one had a plan to keep us from becoming toast, we knew it was up to us to save our own lives. We needed to implement Plan B, media and public exposure.

The fact that Cellini was a controversial potential felon, helped us get the local media interested. Our members were eager to share their stories with the press. It turned into a Sunday morning, front-page, above the fold expose’. The fire chief recognized that the stay-put plan was unpopular with people with disabilities. The building management said they were working on an emergency plan.

We had public opinion on our side. There were letters to the editor and we wrote a guest editorial for the paper. I had a few people stop me on the street and say, they had never thought about the issue before. We had raised public awareness.

The Victory

The fire chief invited the action team to a meeting to see if we could find a solution. First, he apologized and admitted that they failed to live up to their responsibilities and thanked us for pushing them. We were a little skeptical; not sure if they were really our allies at that point. But, they had done their homework and wanted to right the wrong.

We worked with them, and they worked with the building owner to develop real plans. They developed a presentation for all the residents of the building. They helped the building management to write and implement an fire/emergency booklet that each resident received.

A few of our members remain skeptical of the plan; but that is a good thing. It will keep us all pushing for even greater security for us in our homes.

Not only that, but the fire department decided to implement the same strategies in every high-rise in the city. It was not just a victory for people with disabilities, but for the entire community…

That is often the case. Right a wrong for people with disabilities and you improve the quality of life for all.

No comments: