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What It Was Like Evacuating During a Fire Alarm as a Wheelchair User

What happens to people in wheelchairs in a fire emergency after they shut down the elevators? I found out.

I just finished occupational therapy when the alarm started flashing. The voice came over the PA: “This is not a drill. The elevators have been shut down. Please go to the stairways. Staff will help people using wheelchairs and others who need assistance.”

The staircases got stacked up, so we waited in the hall a few long minutes. No one was freaking out, but it was tense. An OT came to me: “We’ll have to transfer you to a lighter push chair, or the medi-lift.” I said, “Whatever you think best.”

I u-turned in the crowded hallway and we backtracked to the gym, where three OTs lifted me onto the medi-lift. It’s a long sheet of durable plastic (1 inch thick? everything was moving so fast) that was unrolled on top of the therapy bed. One OT secured my head on a pillow, while two others by my feet each grabbed a long strap to pull me through the hallway and down the stairs! Mostly, they carried me downstairs and were very careful. I only things I felt were a light bump at the top of the steps and another on the landing. Luckily, we were only on the second floor (I was having flashbacks to my old job and expecting it would be 14 floors).

Outside, the entire building was evacuated, standing around in fortunate 60-degree weather. They laid me on the sidewalk just as the firetrucks arrived. It turned out to be a false alarm – an electrician set it off without even knowing.

Hats off to all the cool-as-cucumber healthcare workers, proving once again that heroes wear scrubs. As a kid from Chicago, one thing I was missing is toboggan rides – so they gave me one, all right, one last toboggan ride I’ll never forget.

Getty image by Zephyr18.