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Friday, February 22, 2013

The Drill About Fire Drills

Little girls who grew up in the 1950's wore dresses or skirts to school.  Pants were for playtime.  You changed into play clothes when you came home from school.  This became a very inconvenient matter when we had a firedrill. We lived  close to an army base.  If the base was bombed,  we would be a target.  We were sent under our desks, crawling on the floor, covering our heads with our hands.  Not a dainty pose in a dress. I do not know who sanctioned this lunacy but that is what we did during fire drills.

A shelter drill was different.  We went into the hall of the school building and stood with our noses touching the wall, waiting for the bomb to hit the school.  There were glass panels  above the wall we were sniffing.  If they broke, when the unspeakable happened,  we would be covered by shattering glass,. makes sense to me.

I grew up, became a teacher, and now I was incharge of my class and fire drills... oh my.
In H.S. it is easy to take your class out for a firedrill.  The students see this an an opportunity to talk, smoke, or cut class.  The difficult part is returning to the building with your class intact.

In elementary school the gongs ring, and the children get frightened.  The big decision is, is there time to grab the coats?  The answer varies depending on where you are in the building when the bells ring.  Firedrills are timed events, and the Principal must clear the building in a certain amount of time.  Trouble will find you if you get out of the building late.

I was teaching 2nd grade.  We were on a different floor, and different side of the building, when the bells rang.  It was raining and nasty, chilly outside. If we returned for the coats, we would not get out in time.  Executive decision,  if the building burns to the ground, I saved the kids.  I must add, I am cold in the heat of the summer, but a fire drill is no joke.  If it were real my coat was not so important.  I took the class outside, down the block, around the corner to my assigned spot.  There were classes everywhere.  Twenty five seven year olds and a damp freezing teacher, without coats.

A parent I had never met approached me.  He said " why did you take the class out without coats"?  I said, " saftey is my concern, we never know when it's a real fire". This got my classes attention.  The parent said, " it's cold and raining, you had no right to take them without their coats".  The kids eyes got big, maybe a fight was coming!  I said, " do you see the man standing in the middle of the street stopping traffic?  He is my Principal please discuss this with him."  Then I took the children back into the building.  I was later praised by my Principal for my polite response.

Finally there is an evacuation drill.  You leave the building and stay out, till the police and fire department  say all clear.  One year I had a Principal who was handicapped, she needed a walker and assistance, she was not really  mobile.  She was , also NOT a beloved person.  If there was a bomb scare we evacuated the building.  What better way to torment a disliked Principal then to call in bomb scares.?  It terrified the teachers, and children.  The bells rang and out we went.  This time we had our jackets and coats.  We marched out and waited.  We were outside, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 1 hour.

The kids needed the bathroom, they were tired of standing, and were hungry.  I had a cold, and was running out of tissues.  The police, and fire department came.  the Principl  was carried out of the building on her chair.  The neighbors came out to offer us assistance.  We had several of these drills until the unpopular Principal retired.  After a while the kids enjoyed the break.

                           Fire drills save lives, a necessary evil, like taxes I guess.

Please share this with every teacher you know!


  1. Ah, yes, Take Cover, fire, evacuation, and shelter drills, to which we down have Lock Downs and Lock Outs. We have always lived in a scary world and teachers had to protect their students, according to the rules for each drill.

    Add to the torture of the Take Cover drills when girls wore short, mini-skirts, and stockings with girdles (pantyhose not yet being invented). The long one's legs, the greater the danger of exposing one's secrets to the nosy boys who LOVED these drills.

    The permission for women to wear pants (actually pants suits) didn't come to schools until I was in college and then a student teacher. When winter's chill arrived, I cheered the change in regulations.

    Thanks for the memories.

  2. Thanks for the reply. The young ladies of today could not imagine a time when girls could not wear pants to school. The challenges we lived through! Ha

  3. Thanks for the memories of fire drills at our school. They were serious business. We didn't want our class to be mentioned over the loud speaker as being too slow to exit the builiding or too noisy. That was a definite "nono". I didn't mind fire drills during nice spring days in May or warm days in June. It broke up the afternoon and we all got some fresh air. Of course, that was usually not the case. They would come at awkward times, right in the middle of your lesson or quiz or right when you be getting ready to go to your cluster. Or on those awful winter days when you so aptly described when you were on the other side of the building and had to go outside in the dead of winter without coats. NOT fun!
    I was so amused by your polite description of our principal as unpopular. Boy, is that an understatement. I am very impressed with how you handled her description. I will never forget that drill. It was awful! We were all outside freezing for over a hour in the middle of winter without coats. I remember we then had a shortened lunch and no time to get anything to warm ourselves up. I still get the chills remembering how cold I was and the students were just miserable. They were cold and so tired of standing. Not a good day.

    On a more serious note. The drills of the 50s were before my time and I know there was the threat of nuclear bombs and the hiding under desks (like that was going to help if a bomb was really dropped) but it was still a more innocent time. People didn't come into schools with guns. Except for the no pants for girls and women, those drills were better than today's lockdowns.

    Thanks for the memories.