Recently, there has been a rash of fire drills: one at my place of worship, another at my husband’s work and one at my daughter’s school. I heard that our evacuation was “slow” because one of our elderly members walked down the stairs. And we have a lot of stairs at our Meeting House. It is a complicated business, arranging a fire evacuation, requiring room sweeps, checklists and timings.

Our elevator is mainly there to help those less able. But, in the event of a fire, I have always been taught not to use the lift, only to use the stairs, the traditional fire escape with the steps round the back. I can manage them fine, but I take longer, so, l would normally be instructed to collect with other less able users, remain in a place of safety, and wait to be evacuated from the building last, so as not to hold up other able-bodied users on the stairs. If I hold up those behind me, I risk getting crushed.

Set test drills against what might really happen in a genuine emergency, and a whole new range of possibilities raise their heads. Less able users may be authorised to use the lift if the fire was well away from the lift shaft. In a ‘real fire’ scenario, I would be reluctant to await rescue, fearing that I might be overlooked.

My husband, who has arrested hydrocephalus, was, a propos of his disability (which is not something he ever discusses with anyone, not even me) instructed to move to a designated place and await collection, just as if he were a piece of lost luggage.  His disability in no way affects his speed of travel, and, like me, he disliked being singled out for this dubious attention.

It might be possible to stipulate that every building should have two stairs, one for use by the able bodied, and the other reserved for use by the less able. But if there are two stairs, the users of the building will insist that they use both, and in a real emergency, I don’t fancy trying to stop them, do you? I would not want to, even if I could.

Perhaps it makes sense to evacuate the less able users first. Of course, that would take up precious minutes. So, I guess that means we less able users will just have to take our chances. Don’t fancy it, though.

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