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Gabe's Gripes: Call it character building

September 05, 2012 - On Aug. 19, a pleasant Sunday afternoon was thrown into a modicum of chaos when an electrical fire began at an apartment complex in Rochester.

It began with a loud noise coming from a basement maintenance room that no one thought otherwise about. After all, a new water heater had been installed and pressure was still erratic. The logical conclusion to the sharp cracking noises coming from the basement was that the workmen were back to fix the issue, but when the lights started to flicker, doors started opening.

The first there was the man who lived across the hall from the electrical room, in apartment 102. He was having a get-together with two friends and was just about to sit down to dinner when the situation demanded attention. Staring at the orange glow coming from the silhouette of the locked maintenance room whilst listening to cracks of what was now obviously electricity, others began arriving to question why their electronics were failing. Fumbling, the man who arrived first told his neighbor to call someone who could deal with a fire and immediately ran back into the apartment to clear the place.

As he left, the neighbor told the man management could not be reached, to which the man replied "you must be kidding. Call 911."

In an instant, the lazy afternoon was a rush of thought and confusion. The supposed fire was not bad and smoke was not visible yet, but assumption of the blaze was enough to send everyone into a panic of orders and questions. The friends in the man's apartment asked him what was important, to which he at first replied "nothing." As the situation became more apparent however, he quietly asked the friends to at least rescue his laptop on the kitchen table.

All the while he looked helplessly for his pet - a one year old kitten named Tabetha. The sudden movement and the calls of "fire!" in the hallway were enough to spook the small animal and as the lights dimmed in the low light of the evening, finding her became a near impossibility. The man looked and pleaded with the invisible animal as smoke began to seep from the locked door in the hall and finally, thinking of how foolish it would be to die in such a slow fire, he left the feline for his own safety.

Coming out white-faced, he looked blearily to his friends, who stood just outside the apartment door looking as smoke poured out of the fake chimney attached to the now fiery room. One friend noticed and slapped his shoulder, prompting him to run back inside with him. The man took the cue and followed into the building which was now hazy with smoke.

By sheer luck or determination, the cat was caught, shoved inside a carrier and brought outside in the space of 15 seconds. The man gleefully took the carrier while the friend, thinking quickly, grabbed the waiting dinner to take outside. They emerged from the apartment to a waiting policeman who spied the food and said "really guys?" Right as they exited, firemen entered the building and broke the lock on the door to douse the fire.

The man and his two friends breathed a sigh of relief, retired to a nearby tree and sat to eat their dinner while they watched the professionals do their work. Firemen, policemen and management all came to the small group and told varying stories of the fire's cause and what it meant to residents. It took a while to catch breath and take in the situation, but what could have been harrowing was yet another adventure.

And that is how I spent my weekend.

The abridged aftermath is that I have to move to another place in the complex, electricity is completely out and the fire was caused (according to the Rochester fire chief) by an electrical arc in a meter box. No one suffered any damages, at least to my knowledge.

It's a self-revealing moment. You always think you know how you will react in a hypothetical situation, but the reality makes you do weird things. I believe, now, that in a fire that was much more serious, I would likely get people out but possibly die in the process of saving something. It's a strange feeling.

Anyway, the end result is I get eight percent off my rent for one month and get to fight with services like cable and electricity. You'd think it would be easy to transfer, but already I went nearly two weeks without internet thanks to a technician who lied about hooking up the outside link the day after the fire. Meanwhile mail keeps arriving at my old mailbox.

Management has been oddly hostile about the whole thing too, with one manager sneering at me as she told me this situation was worse for her than it was for me or the other displaced tenants. Complaints can be harsh I suppose.

The whole thing is confusing, but tragedy is all part of life and growing up. I just can't say I'm enjoying it.

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