Posted by: Tanmoy Chakrabarti | April 2, 2009

Winter Arrival, Fire Alarms

It is unbelievable that we have just completed summer and are entering into another winter so soon. We had a three month long summer. During that time we had to put sun-block every day on ourselves to shield ourselves from the ultra-violet rays which are very strong in this part of the world. We also had an occasional warm day when the sun came hard at us when we ventured out. However, the heat was never unbearable. Evenings are very pleasant and proximity to the ocean always makes Auckland perpetually breezy. Days were unusually lengthy too and we got sunlight from 6 AM to nearly 8.30 PM on most days. Downpours reduce too during summer months. For a person like I, who was tormented by summer in Delhi for eight years or so, I quite liked the summer here. In fact, though it was all warm and sunny for everyone, mind you even during Auckland summer; we could not leave our light blankets when we went to sleep at night.

It is winter already and the transition I guess is most difficult. The days have become shorter and when I get ready to reach office by eight, it is usually dark (at 7.15 AM). There is a bit of chill in the weather and our experience last year says, as days pass rains would make there way. Personally, I am waiting for the day light savings time to take effect because it gives a psychological boost.

A very popular and oft quoted local song says, you can experience all seasons in a single day when you are in Auckland. I have witnessed the truth in the folk song. If it is dark and raining a moment the next moment can be very bright and sunny. Thus, if you aren’t carrying an umbrella and are frightened to get drenched, you need to just wait for a while under a shed. Thankfully, it does not snow in Auckland so the cold does not get unbearable too but for us from India; it is quite an elongated winter nevertheless.

People here tend to follow weather reports a lot. I think this is true for many Westernized nations. We have somewhat got into that habit too.

On another note, all apartments in Auckland have fire alarms and smoke alarms. While smoke alarms make an irritating noise whenever there is a smoke inside the apartment (be it if someone is smoking or be it from the unattended toaster), the fire alarm starts of whenever there is a threat of a fire in the building. The fire alarm is really loud and the sound comes with a voice message – asking you to leave your apartment and building since there is a fire alert. We have got quite used to this fire alarm thing because today at morning 2 AM it was our third experience!

The first experience was of a routine check which the fire department in collaboration with the building authorities carried out, the second one was a small cable burning and I am yet to find the reason for to-day’s alarm but it seemed like something was burning because it smelt really bad.

So what happens when fire alarm goes off?

Essentially, you just carry your wallet, phone get out of your apartment and eventually out of the building. You have to take stairs to make your way out. Nobody really pushes each other while everyone from seventeen levels and 102 apartments make their way down. Every time we have come down in response to a fire alarm, we see a fleet (at least four) of fire engines waiting for us. The firemen do their job quite silently without any fuss. They just go in, act and return to tell us when we are safe to move in. Most of us say our thanks to them and move in – this time by elevators.

Coming out at 2 AM to-day was not really pleasing since the cold outside and the smell made it really difficult. Thankfully, all were safe.

Why I am writing all these usual events here?

Firemen are not expected to prevent fire accidents but they minimize the extent of damage caused. In all countries they are respected for their job. Sadly, in India we have so many accidents where the firemen reach the place where the accident has occurred late. Despite their reaching late, so many times we have them mobbed by panic struck people and argument follows, wasting some more time. I have not seen things such as those happen here. As soon as the fire alarm starts, the fire engines are there and the firemen can get on with their job. I wish situation back home becomes like that.

I know in India, public servants like firemen and police are not paid well and this is stated as one of the reasons for their below-par performance. I wonder why this is so!

On one hand, people choose these professions for themselves and on the other the constraints make them non-performers. At the end of the day, we all suffer largely because of our collective ignorance.

Further, I do agree that some of the commercial establishments in India have fire alarms these days but I am quite sure that in many it is not adequate. I have worked in two such buildings where the electrical wirings can scare you to death. The situations in residential buildings are appalling.

I hope the residential building authorities invite the local police authorities and firemen to teach them fire drills. This is just bare minimum which we can learn.

I am reminded of a poem by famous Bengali poet Sukumar Ray called “Bidde Bojhai Babumoshai” (loosely meaning Overtly Wise Gentleman), where the Gentleman knows every details of science behind the cause of a tide but does not know how to save himself if he is caught in one!

In India, most of us are like that.



  1. At least in the hi-tech corporate sector the situation is changing. What has happened is that a few large infrastructure development firms are in charge of erecting and maintaining the multi-storied buildings, which are rented out to the IT and Biotech industries. Most smaller companies don’t find it wise to invest in self owned infrastructure in these tough and highly competitive times. I am talking about buildings which easily house several thousands of people during working hours. These big names DLF, Embassy etc have a vested interest in safeguarding these buildings. The fire alarm system is state of the art and the firemen do reach here on time, most of the time 🙂 However, it is true that there are many unexpected difficulties that might hinder the effectiveness of the process, due to the lack of infrastructure elsewhere, e.g. narrow roads, bad parking on the road, frequent accidents and long time to clearance of the accident spot etc. In spite of these things, the hi-tech industry seems well prepared (Recently a fire broke out in the IBM building here, and everything was bought under control quickly, and nobody was thankfully hurt). The residential situation is sadly, quite bad. Moreover, to add worry to woe, very few people insure their houses/apartments here.

  2. For once I have to differ with you, Tanmoy. You can sometimes have too much of a good thing. Fire alarms and diligent firemen are all very nice – I’m sure they sometimes help save a few lives – but if the price I have to pay is being jerked out of bed and house in the wee hours every once in a while because some fool left something burning in some other flat, I’d start feeling very soon that I was living in prison. The idea that I cannot smoke in my own house is not very palatable either! Some people may like to be treated like rabbits in a cage, but I’m sure there are lots of people like me too who’d want to keep their freedoms and take their chances… just surviving for a few years more by playing safe to such a crazy extent is not my idea of living a good life!

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