So there I am, fast asleep, staring down a fire alarm…

4 minute read

November 11, 2013, 12:09 AM

I graduated from high school in 1999.  That means that I have been out of high school for fourteen years.  The question I have is, why am I still having fire drill dreams?  I had one of these on Saturday night, and I don’t get it.

In this dream, I was going to Stuarts Draft High School, which is where I actually went to high school.  Back then, the school had a Simplex system, but the school has since been renovated.  It now has a Notifier system with System Sensor horn/strobes.  The take-home point on this, however, is that the school now contains a horn/strobe in every classroom.  And I am acutely aware of this.  When I was in school, I only shared a classroom with a fire alarm horn once.  That was in kindergarten at Southside Elementary School in Rogers, Arkansas, but the kindergarten room was the size of a basketball court with a really high ceiling.  At Grimes Elementary in Rogers, and Stuarts Draft Middle School and Stuarts Draft High School in Virginia, I never shared a classroom with a fire alarm horn except for in shop classes (where I never had a fire drill) and Phys. Ed, where we did have the occasional fire drill.  However, in middle school, two Edwards horns in a big gym weren’t very loud, but four Simplex 4040 horns in the gym in high school were extremely loud.  But outside from those situations, there were no horns in the rooms where I had class (the horns were out in the hallway).

In this dream, I was sitting in a modern-looking classroom on the first day of school at Stuarts Draft High School.  And across the room from me was this:

The fire alarm horn from my dream. This is a variation on the Wheelock 7002T that never existed in real life.

That funky looking thing is the fire alarm from my dream.  My mind saw this as a Wheelock 7002T despite the open grille.  In fact, truth be told, a horn looking like this has never existed in real life.  To my knowledge, Wheelock never made a mechanical horn that had the regular Wheelock grille pattern on the top half and horizontal bars on the bottom half.

Also remember that in Virginia, schools are required to conduct a fire drill once per week for the first month of the school year.  Thus four fire drills in fairly quick succession.  In my high school, we had block scheduling, which meant only four classes per day that ran for a semester.  Thus they usually drilled in three out of four classes in that first month (third block never got fire drills due to lunches).  Presumably this class that I was in was not third block, because I knew I was in an unpleasant situation.  I knew that there was a very strong likelihood that the horn that I was staring down would be making a very loud noise in this relatively small classroom, and I would be in the room with it when it did.  I knew that, its being a mechanical horn, it would scare the hell out of me when it went off, but I didn’t know when it would happen, and I couldn’t escape.  You want to drive me crazy and make me start fidgeting, that’s how to do it.  And that’s exactly what I was doing in this dream.  I was consumed by this fire alarm horn.  And it never went off.  The focus of the dream was the thought of suddenly, without warning, being hit with this very loud noise that I couldn’t escape from.  And it was always mechanical horns.  I didn’t evacuate to an electronic horn until college, and an incident in first grade where a Wheelock 7002T went off over my head scared the hell out of me and made me somewhat nervous around mechanical horns, which persists to this day.  Electronic horns don’t do that to me for some reason.

When I was in school, I would have these fire drill dreams a lot.  Fire drills were a part of life in school after all, but I’ve made it very clear on here, many times over, that I hate surprise fire drills.  Leave the surprise to the real fire, and let practice be clear that it’s practice.  After all, familiarity breeds contempt.  Too many drills and you start to get sloppy, because then it’s just another fire drill, and thus no need to hurry, and the resulting slow response due to the lack of a sense of urgency comes back to bite you in the butt.

Now, however, I’ve been out of school for fourteen years.  The last surprise fire drill I was involved in was in 2003 (for which I pulled the alarm).  The last time I was involved in a surprise fire drill that I didn’t know about was November 2000.  The last time I was involved in a planned fire drill of any kind was August 2008, and that was annouced two weeks out.  And so that brings me to my first point: what is causing these fire drill dreams as an adult?  I’ve been out of school for long enough that you would think that I wouldn’t have these dreams anymore.  And in fact, fire alarm dreams changed in college (the alarm actually went off in my dreams for the first time in college), and then they did go away for about seven or eight years, but they’ve come back in recent years.  After all, I just had one on Saturday night.  And I don’t know why.

And to add to the absurdity of it all, in this most recent dream, after fidgeting for a long time in this classroom of my dreams (nightmares?), I suddenly found my escape route.  First, I remembered that I’m not in school anymore, and have been out for a long time.  Secondly, I remember, in my dream, that I am asleep and that it’s only a dream.  And only then, with the happy ending firmly in place, do I wake up.

Does anyone want to take a stab at what these fire drill dreams mean?  I suspect that the fire alarm is a supporting character on the stage of my subconscious.  The main character in these kinds of dreams is that certain feeling of dread – the anticipation of a sudden, unpleasant event, and not knowing when it’s going to happen and being unable to escape it.  I’ll bet other people have these kinds of dreams, too, though it may not necessarily be a fire alarm that is the source of the nervous anticipation.  Anyone want to try to interpret it?  Leave a comment below and give it a shot!  I’d love to hear what you think it means…

Postscript: For those wondering, the class period distribution of those once-per-week drills when I was in high school went this way. Freshman year (95-96) saw those four drills in (in order) 2, 2, 4, and 4. Sophomore year (96-97) was 1, 4, 2, and 1. Junior year (97-98) did those drills in 2, 1, 4, and 2. Then senior year (98-99) did the drills in 2, 1, 4, 4. And trust me when I say I was delighted to hit that fourth drill senior year, because I knew that I would never have to deal with weekly fire drills ever again. Also, don't ask me why I still remember this. I don't know why, but if I tried, I could probably name just about every fire drill I ever had in school.