Death or humiliation?

Last updated 10:30 19/01/2012

There are fortunately blessedly few situations in my life when I've been called upon to make a choice between death and humiliation. Events of yesterday morning lead me to believe that I might have a tendency to choose the first of these two evils. Because when you find yourself weighing up the options as I did - possible fiery death vs being seen by my colleagues in my underwear - and choosing the former, well, it does make you think a bit about what your priorities are, you know?

But of course I'm kidding. I almost certainly wouldn't have burned to death. I would probably have succumbed to asphyxiation long before I became human chargrill. But I'm getting ahead of myself. You need to know how I found myself in this dramatic "devil or the deep blue sea" situation.

I arrived at work yesterday a little before 9am and, as is my habit, I parked up my bike and went to the toilets to change out of my bike gear and freshen up. About 5 minutes later at the exact mid-point between cycle gear and office outfit (ie "barefoot and no clothing more substantial than underwear") a siren started to sound. We've been doing a bit of "emergency procedure" stuff lately as I mentioned the other day so I wasn't too worried. "They'll just be testing the alarm" I thought. It'll go for a second or two and then stop.

But it didn't stop. It kept going. And then a recorded announcement instructed me to "evacuate the building". In my undies.

Okay, it didn't actually mention my undies but in order for me to comply I'd have to do just that. Of course I was 98 per cent sure that it was a drill. But if the last 502 days have taught me anything it's that unexpected stuff can happen. So I made a call. And that call was "I don't care if it means I die a fiery death, I am NOT running out of this building in my gruds".

So I grabbed my dress, wriggled into it and yanked up the zip...which stubborn refused to go up further than my waist. This is a zip that has never been especially tricky or difficult before but all of a sudden when I really need it to co-operate with me it's not playing nice. I yanked a bit more, swore a bit and then tried hopping in the hope that this might encourage it to head in the right direction. As if me doing a one woman River Dance performance would actually help.

You can't see it but the zip is still a good 15cm undone at the back

It was at this point, in a panic-stricken moment of clarity I realised that if this were a movie it would be a really terrible one and that somehow I had become the female Adam Sandler. Needless to say that on top of the whole semi-clad dress wrestling and whooping fire siren thing, that I was not best pleased by this particular epiphany.

Having struggled long enough for the recorded announcement to tell me a few more times that I should be evacuating I gave up on the zip determining that two thirds of the way up was enough for the sake of decency, shoved my feet into my shoes, grabbed my phone and bolted out the door, down the corridor and out to non-humiliating un-BBQed freedom.

Of course it was just a drill. I never was in any real danger. Mind you, my good friend Tulip was so delighted with the whole thing that she snapped a picture of me in the carpark as I did up my belt and said "that's so going on Twitter". So I'm even happier I didn't exit the building in my unmentionables. Good call, Moata. Good call.

But if you were in that situation what would you do? Head for safety or head for a bathrobe?

- Stuff

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AJ   #1   10:38 am Jan 19 2012

I have spent many hours pondering where I would least like to be should an emergency occur. My conclusion is that the worst possible place is in the shower at the gym. Your experience has firmed up my suspicions that it is not a good idea to bare flesh other than at home.

j   #2   10:38 am Jan 19 2012

Dignity is definitely the priority. So its death for me is guess.

Arby   #3   10:38 am Jan 19 2012

Urgh, I too have been caught in this same situation. I was so upset by it all, it's basically put me off cycling to work. I am a school teacher, and I popped out during a free period, was getting changed and then the alarm went. I was in the Undie State .. and knew that unless I smelled smoke there was NO WAY I was going to run out on to the field in front of all the students in my knickers! So I got dressed and snuck out the back door and walked down the side of the buildings pretending I was doing a last minute check .....

Doll   #4   10:38 am Jan 19 2012

Reminds me of my own thoughts.......

Ever since the CHCH earthquakes I always make sure I wear pants to bed, you never know what's going to happen and I don't want to be standing on the side of the street just wearing my undies lol.

McFail   #5   10:39 am Jan 19 2012

I was in this situation once, used to work in a retail shop and needed to go to the bathroom to... lets say drop the kids off at the pool.

The kids are dropped off but I am yet to clean up the mess they left in the car and the fire alarm went off. I thought for a sec, do I stay where I am and hope it's a fake or do I go outside with customers and co-workers and smell funny.

To make it worse, partway through my thinking, the manager opened the toilet door (cubicle was closed thankfully) and said, "fire alarm, outside" which kind of made the decision for me.

Chickity   #6   10:41 am Jan 19 2012

While nothing like this has happened to me, thankfully, I do have a friend who was in a Chch hotel when the first quake struck and ended up being evacuated in her pjs and heels, as she was on business and only had one pair of shoes with her. Apparently she ended up giving her conference presentation in the same outfit to a large group of equally stangely dress collegues who hadn't been allowed back in for their belongings...

Niri Tacen   #7   10:43 am Jan 19 2012

Wow, love that dress. Trés sexy.

I've been lucky in that I've never been caught in the middle of changing or using the loo when the fire alarm went off. I've always wondered about that, and just can't come up with an answer. I mean, "semi-naked or dressed" is less of a decision than "wipe or run".

Really, when it comes to humiliation, why not have both? "She burned to death while sitting on the toilet..." Awesome.

If it's just a matter of being partially unclothed, I think I'd prefer humiliation. Although to be on the safe side I think from now I'll only wear clothes that are easy to put on and don't require zipping. Does Trelise Cooper use velcro?

Noodle   #8   10:43 am Jan 19 2012

I do wonder about this sometimes myself. I usually sleep naked or just in my undies. If there was a fire, would I be able to grab my robe or a blanket or something to cover up? What if there was no fire but there was an intruder and I needed to, as quickly and quietly as possible, surprise this S.O.B so I could smash his head in with my handy dandy baseball bat? Would I be able to put some clothing on or would I just have to go out err...swinging? Quite possibly the sight of a naked woman charging at him with a baseball bat would stun the intruder long enough for me to get a few good hits in there.

Mbossa   #9   10:44 am Jan 19 2012

Coincidentally, someone had a very similar dilemma during yesterday's bomb scare in Wellington ( -- last few paragraphs). In fact, when I read the title and synopsis of your blog post I was certain it was going to be able that event. The article's not entirely clear what choice she made, but it does imply that she didn't take the time to get fully dressed.

Not really sure what I'd do in that situation, but I'm a fire warden on my floor and it might be a bit hard to assert my authority if I'm telling people to walk calmly down the stairs and out the fire exit while wearing nothing but a hard hat.

Alice2   #10   10:49 am Jan 19 2012

My former workplace had the most hideous pink bathrobes in the shower cubicles for this very possibility. The person in charge of evacuation drills very kindly always planned them for around 10am or 2pm, to ensure nobody ever had to use the robes.

In the September earthquake, my flatmate jumped out of bed & ran for his bedroom door, grabbing his boxers off the floor on the way. When he got to the doorway, he realised that he didn't have underwear, he had a sock. About this time, his computer monitor tried to take a dive, so he was preoccupied with trying to hold that up. Luckily for the both of us, I'd gone under my bed, so we didn't have an uncomfortable meeting in the hallway.

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