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The day I dialled … 911

Dial 911 on iPhoneThe iPhone. All hail the flippin’ iPhone, which I got sucked into buying back in August during my summer road trip when my trusty old Nokia finally broke when one of the function keys broke, and so I got a new phone when I passed the gleaming AT&T store in Salt Lake City later that day.

The iPhone which has put a camera (and with the later models) a video camera into everyones hand so we can more easily than ever blog, twitpic and generally log our lives for the rest of the world to see more than ever.

The iPhone, which today caused me about 10 seconds of valuable time when I was trying to dial 911 to call the Fire Department to summon their help … as my kitchen was on fire.

It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, and still just dressed in my boxers I was uploaded some video to my PC from the night before. I scratched my balls, yawned and stretched and wandered into the kitchen to make some tea. And like countless numbers of days before that I have done in the morning whilst living at Beverlys house, I filled up the stove kettle (not electric) with water, put it on the front left ring of the stove, turned on the dial .. and went to wee whilst it boiled.

I ducked my head back into my room to check that the video uploading was going ok – all good, and then went to the bathroom where a wee turned into a sit down effort, and so I sat down for a minute. And I was getting close to finishing when I heard something go ‘thump’ and perhaps fall over outside. Was that one of the cats? We have three of them in the house, and they like to get inside boxes, open doors, jump on the counters and tables – one of them knocked over a guitar propped upright in the lounge the other day .. so I thought I’d check it out just as soon as I was done. Which is when I heard a ‘whump’ noise .. which .. made me think “No, really – what was that?” and I now wanted to investigate immediately, except I couldn’t because I was on the loo and hadn’t finished .. so i quickly finished, wiped, stood up, flushed and headed out to the kitchen, where I saw a sight that I really don’t ever want to see again. Literally, ever.

The stove is on fire – badly. The kettle itself looks ok, but the pan (last nights dinner) on the ring on the stove behind it is blazing away – flames many inches high. That in turn is setting fire to the cabinet which hangs over the cooker, and there’s another one of those slow motion moments where someone presses the virtual-go-slow button on your life remote and time comes to a crawl.

“FUCK! FIRE!”, I think were the two words I could manage to yell at the top of my voice and in an instant span round to get my iPhone sitting on the side charging just a few few away and ran outside to the front door – and dialled 911.

Well I say I dialled 911, but in reality what happened was:

• I slid my shaking, panicing thumb over the ‘unlock’ switch – and a combination of my nerves, and the thin layer of burnt plastic that was already in the air and had deposited on my phone meant that I didn’t do it proplerly the first time, and it took me two tries.

• “Diall 911! Dial 911”, I’m thinking in my head (thank goodness I didn’t try and do ‘999’ first, eh?) and can’t remember what app is was on at the time, but I had to hit the iPhone ‘home’ button to go back to main screen, to then fire up the phone app – missed – fired up messaging instead – hit home, went for the phone app again, and then thought … “FUCK! WHERE’S THE FUCKING KEYPAD!”, because I think in all the time I’ve had the phone, I’ve used the keypad on it about twice, as all my other numbers are programmed in so I’ve never really had to type a phone number in.

• So it takes me another couple of seconds to stop, think, ignoring the now roaring flames in the kitchen behind me where it’s now taking hold on the cupboard to the left, eventually press with my sweaty finger the ‘keypad’ button, and in near-blind-panic, manage to punch out ‘911’ and ‘call’.

The dispatcher answers. Ok, now I’m panicking like a big girl and it takes me three attempts to say the address correctly until she can understand it. “Now just calm down honey and give me that add-ress again” she might have even said in her southern drawl. She patches me through more or less instantly to the local fire department .. which I know where it is, Johns Island fire department is 90 seconds up the road around the corner, and the guy that talks to me asks me to describe the situation, if there are any other people in the house, and advises me to get out of the house as “We’re already on our way”.

I turn to the back door of the kitchen .. I’m aware of the thick black smoke that is collecting on the ceiling of the kitchen. I have flashback to junior school where they show you safety videos and tell you that smoke is actually a killer in a fire, and not the flames and and I run to the backdoor – in my barefeet, still just got my boxers on – and open the back door, and leave it open to try and get the smoke outside.

I turn back and look inside at the stove now ablaze and realise that in the two minutes that it’s gonna take the fire crew to get here, this is going to be bad unless I do something about it. So I step back inside.

I grab a tea-towel. WHY I didn’t wet it, I don’t know – because a wet tea towel over a burning pan is something that they also show you in the safety videos to put out a fire by starving it of oxygen, but I do remember thinking “It’s an electrical fire on an oily pan, I can’t use water” – fuck knows how I managed to have some sort of sense in the state of panic that I’m in. Instead, using the tea towel wrapped around my hand as protection, I pick up the kettle on the ring that it is on – the plastic handle is melting – grab it and toss it outside onto the back yard lawn.

I go back in for the pan .. that was on the ring next to it. It’s hugely ablaze. I carefully – and boy do I mean carefully – grab the handle and more slowly than the kettle take it outside, and throw it away from me to the ground. (Later, we find a patch of blackened burnt grass, the size of then pan where the fire burnt the lawn nicely). And then I go back in for another pan that is half ablaze on the third out of fourth rings on the stove.

But there’s still fire. The cabinet above and to either side are ablaze, and one of them is burning away nicely at Beverly’s collection of Tar Heels plastic cups. That CAN be put out with water I remember, and grab another cup nearby, and douse the flames in three or four attempts of water from the sink.

I dash back outside to make sure that I am breathing some clean air, and then duck back inside. It’s just the stove ring that is still on – glowing all orange and bright. “Turn off the source!” I think in my head, and lean forward to get to the controls (tea towel still on hand) and see to my dismay that all the control knobs have burnt and melted away – there’s no way to turn it off.

I go outside again – nothing is on fire, it’s just all smoke now, and in the distance I can here the sirens of the fire trucks. All of that has taken 60 seconds and I go back outside in the car porch and sit on the ground. I find my phone. I burst into tears. I am a mess. And I call Beverly to tell her to come home because her kitchen is on fire …

About 20 minutes later …

There are big burly firemen – and one fire woman – stomping about the place. I had to call Beverly back to ask her where the location of the breaker box was so that they could cut the power to the cooker.

They have place an enourmous fan at the entrance to the house and are getting the majority of the smoke out of the house with it.

Beverly comes back, we hug, I cry some more, and we go on a hunt for the cats – all three of who are beautifully cowering under the beds upstairs.

Katie turns up. I get her to video me. I take photos … using the dreaded iPhone. Yes, the device which took me 10 seconds longer to dial the emergency service is now the catalyst to the meta explosion which is now almost expected in any ‘drama’ that people like to blog about.

Why do we do this? Why do we now feel the need to log ourselves in the middle of a crisis that it happening to you right in the moment? Because this is what we do now. This is what the world has become. And so I fire off some tweets too, and do my first ever facebook status update from my iPhone.

A fireman goes into my bedroom and comes out with my jeans and a top for me to wear. “I’m feeling a little naked”, I think I might have said to him, so he saved my blushes.

My feet hurt. At some point, I’ve trodden in burning matter, and now the adrenalin has gone I can feel pain in my feet. I’ve got a small burn on my hand too where I’ve touched something hot. It’s amazing how I can’t recall at all ever thinking “Ouch! That was hot!” because when you’re in the middle of something like that, your pain receptors switch off.

I actually end up bitching to the fire-chief like-bloke (he must be, he’s the only one wearing a white shirt) about the shittyness of the iPhone for dialing the emergency number. He nods and agrees.

The reason why I bitch so much is that on my old Nokia, and lot of similar phones of that design, they:

i. Had a physical keyboard, and …

ii. Even when they were in locked mode you could press ‘9 1 1’, or ‘9 9 9’, or ‘1 1 2’ and hit ‘send’ WITHOUT having to unlock the phone. Just the four buttons you need – like really need – to dial that number in a hurry.

The kitchen is a mess. It is black. The house will be uninhabitable for a bit whilst it’s cleaned up. I feel embarrassed, stupid, angry. But at the same time people point out to me that it was an accident, not my fault, and putting out the fire rather than ducking outside and waiting for the crew to turn up means that it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

I have a headache. Breathing in burning plastic is not good for the head, it would seem. There is a fine layer of burnt plastic bits on the surfaces. The insurers have already been called, and a surveyor has been round to inspect the damage.

I normally like a little drama. But I’m starting to have enough of it now. Can I go home yet please?

15 responses to “The day I dialled … 911”

  1. geofftech says:


    two days before the fire last week, I had improv practice here in Charleston. I did a scene where someone took something seriously, and the other person had to play it childishly. My scene partner went ‘serious’ and was a fire person putting a fire put (i’m not making this up!). So i went with “Hey look! I’ve got a new fire truck!” and started making the siren noises and playing with it on stage. Fucking scary premonition or what, huh?

  2. ian (the benign dictator) says:

    Glad that you’re OK.

    So get rid of the iPhone…. no end of gullible fools queueing up to buy one

  3. Scott says:

    Glad you’re ok. I remember doing a very similar thing when at university. Our landlord was not pleased especially since when we threw the pan outside it landed all over the garden furniture and ruined that as well… eeek

  4. Bob H says:

    Glad you are OK…

    On the smart phone thing, my Windows Mobile (although not perfect ) does allow me to dial emergency numbers.

  5. Tina (Geoff's Mum) says:

    So you were paying attention in school then! Well done anyway, I didn’t realise you had actually put the fire out yourself. MOST essential in any kitchen is a fire-blanket in a case located near the cooker. You just pull a cord and it plops out for you to smother the flames. An extinguisher might be useful if you know what you are doing, (different types etc.) You should not lift burning pans by the way. I had a chip-pan fire 39 years ago, before the days of alarms etc. and it still haunts me to this day. I am now obsessive about fire-safety now, checking knobs are turned off, and not leaving any pans on the stove whilst not in the room.

  6. Paul says:

    …and there was me thinking only today at work, Why hasn’t Geoff blogged in a couple of days?! Glad you’re ok mate!!

  7. Raineth says:

    No, fire is not something one normally wants to see, if it’s not under control & obviously doing some damage. Fast & effective thinking on your part, though. I figure it’s probably normal to feel scared, angry & stupid, don’t you think? You are not “trained out” of paying attention to some those sensations. All hail the mighty adrenaline rush!

    My apologies, but the whole “in the loo” bit made me laugh & laugh. Shite always happens in the middle of something important…

    How are your burns doing??

  8. tami says:

    At least you had your boxers on and wasnt in the rough

  9. Michael says:

    Glad to hear that you are OK. I had a small fire more than 30 years ago, and I can still remember the feeling of shock when I first saw it.

  10. gerard says:

    Just as well you did have a ‘sit down’ pre-panic stations otherwise things could’ve been a whole lot messier!

  11. Paul Fraser Webb says:

    Sorry Geoff, but this just sounds like something you made up to explain to Katie why you were neary naked and surrounded by firemen.

  12. centraluser says:

    Great to hear that you are Ok.

    Wise words from your Mum.

    Are smoke detectors common in US homes?

    Your post was indeed as adrenalin filled as the event – I couldn’t wait to get to the end.


  13. Katie says:

    Paul, I’ve learned it is best to just not ask questions anymore.

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  15. kiwiant says:

    Lucky the iPhone didn’t cause the fire. Just don’t keep it in your pants. Perhaps they need to release a 911 Application although it will have to be approved by them 🙂

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