A Fiery Christmas Day

It's always nice to take a few days off to unwind. However, keep in mind that you still have to take precautions even during vacations. Enjoy your trip, but keep safe.

My family had survived a hotel fire during one of our yearly family vacations. This incident happened many years ago. I was still a teenager who didn't give much thought about accidents and misfortunes. I went to Taiwan with my family consisting of Dad, Mom, and twin sister. It was our second time in the country. My maternal uncle helped us find a cheap place to stay in. No one would have thought that on our first night there, we would wake up at an ungodly hour realizing there was a fire. After we escaped from the building, we just stood in the streets for hours. It was Christmas day.

Read on to know more about my experience. I'd also share some hotel fire safety tips at the end of this page.

Our Hotel

Our HotelCredit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rudiriet/4322942379/On our first visit to Taiwan, we made some silly decisions which included NOT booking an accommodation beforehand. When we got to the city from the airport, we hopped off the bus and headed to a hostel that someone recommended to my mom. To our horror, the hostel was already fully booked. We searched for lodging as my poor dad carried our humongous luggage around the city. We ended up in a splurge hotel. We got a deluxe room with a king-sized bed and a grandiose bathroom. Needless to say, it made a hole in my parents' pockets.

The following year, my family had become wiser. We asked an uncle to find a lodging for us. He was living in Taipei at that time. He knew about our limited funds so he made sure that our lodging was really cheap (but still livable of course). He fetched us from the airport and brought us to the hotel. We got our key with an old-fashioned rectangular keychain (there were no keycards yet) and headed to our room. Our room wasn't much. Nevertheless, I was still impressed. It was dim-lighted and looked cozy. I played with whatever I could play with - lamps, chairs, faucets - before we went out for dinner (I was a childish teen). My uncle brought us to his small apartment nearby. For some reason, I did something that I'd never done before - I memorized the route from our hotel to his apartment. After a filling dinner, we brought sodas, takeout dim sum, and a pack of watermelon seeds (which has always been a favorite snack of mine). We hanged a few garments in the closet before we went to bed.

Get Up!

Get UpCredit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/60900612@N08/9285812653/I woke up from a faint noise outside our room. Then, my mom told us in a calm but loud voice, "Get up! There's a fire!" It was around 3am. I jumped out of my bed, took my jacket and my pants, and pulled one of our suitcases. My dad was walking back and forth while clutching his socks. He didn't seem to know what to do and couldn't wear his shoes properly. My sister grabbed some other things including my watermelon seeds (I thanked her profusely for that). My mom opened the door and the noise became much louder. I could see thick smoke outside. The fire alarm had set off, but it was just as loud as a telephone ring. The four of us huddled together as we ran through the hallways. Some guests simply watched as they stood by their doors. Though I couldn't see the flames, I was so scared of getting hit by falling debris. We passed by the middle-aged receptionist who didn't leave her post. Finally, we were out of the building. We were safe.

Looking for My Uncle's Apartment

Uncle's ApartmentCredit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dtaylor28/4077085887/I suddenly became conscious of my pajamas. It was a chilly Christmas day. We went to an empty lobby of a nearby building and there I put on my jacket on and pulled my pants over my pajamas. There were a lot of guests scattered outside the building. Most of them were angry. After talking to some of them, we learned that the fire had already ended after we woke up. Some of them wanted to sue the hotel for neglecting us (not one staff had assisted us) and for its poor safety measures. The blaze broke out in one floor beneath us. I was glad we didn't get roasted. It seemed that there was zero casualty. My mom didn't want my uncle to worry when he visited us in the morning. Surely, he wouldn't know where to find us after we moved to another place. With no way to contact him at that hour (mobile phones weren't invented yet), my parents decided to tell him in person about the fire incident first thing in the morning. The problem was, they forgot how to go to his apartment. So my mom took my sister with her and went out to look for my uncle's apartment. Dad and I stayed behind to look after our luggage. After a few minutes, they came back with nothing. They went looking for a few more times until I told them I could find it. My dad went with me. We crossed the streets and turned right. We walked for a few minutes until we saw the familiar door leading to my uncle's apartment. We found it.

There was no way to enter the building. The main door was always locked and could only be opened by the tenants. There was also no guard so if we wanted to see my uncle, we would
have to wait outside until someone opens the door.

New Lodging

New LodgingCredit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pictograms-nps- lodging.svgMy mom was so proud of my "good sense of direction". I don't think I have a good sense of direction. I think it was out of ordinary for me to have found my uncle's place. I was never good with directions and never will. I consider it a miracle.

Meanwhile, a local recommended a nice hostel for us to stay in. The owner/receptionist (or whoever she was) was very hospitable. She learned about the fire and reassured us that the hostel had a good escape plan. She gave us a little tour and showed as the emergency exit/terrace in our room. We felt a lot safer. Having said that, I stayed awake for a few hours before fatigue took over.

When I woke up, my mom had already contacted my uncle. It took her a while to reach him. I learned later on that when she went to his apartment, he had already left to visit us. As expected, he got extremely shocked when he saw the slightly-burnt building. Good thing my mom managed to leave him a message in his apartment. That was how he learned about our new lodging. For the next few days of our stay, my uncle would visit us every night and bring us some snacks. He had also toured us in his free days.

Despite this scary experience, I still consider myself lucky. The flames had already been extinguished before things got more dangerous. I didn't get to witness casualties, and everyone in the hotel was safe. That event didn't change how I feel about hotels. But it does remind me to always take extra precaution and as much as possible, to stay in reputable lodgings.

Hotel Fire Safety Tips

  1. Upon your arrival to the hotel, study the evacuation plan in your room. It is usually posted behind your door. Make a mental note of each exits that you encounter on your way to your room. You never know where a fire will start so it's important to know more than one exits in case one of them becomes inaccessible.
  2. Put all your important belongings such as money, credit cards, keys, and passports all in one place. In case of emergencies, you can easily grab your bag and leave.
  3. Your hotel room is not your home. Do not hang all your clothes in the closet. It's better to keep most of your things inside your suitcase. I would usually set aside my outfit for the next day the night before so I wouldn't have to rummage through my luggage in the morning. It's not only efficient, it would also save you time packing when you have to leave.
  4. Bring a flashlight with you. It may come in handy during an emergency (especially when power goes out).
  5. Do not choose a lodging only because it's cheap (guilty of this). Do your research before booking an accommodation.