Hotel Fires Reveal Personalities

I have been traveling for work, and, therefore, staying in hotels across the USA, for many years. I have lost count of the number of nights I have spent in hotels, however, I know this number must be in the thousands by now. I have a “been there, done that” attitude when it comes to hotels, having had countless positive, neutral, and negative experiences in all types of hotels. Just as I have had the misfortune of having many rental cars break down, due to the frequency with which I rent cars, I have also had the unfortunate experience of being involved in several hotel crises, including fires. (Yes, I have been involved in more than one hotel fire, as well as several other incidents requiring me to evacuate from my sleeping room or conference room.) One of the earliest experiences I had as a trial consultant occurred in a hotel in Washington, D.C. My colleagues and I were relaxing, perhaps sleeping, in our hotel rooms prior to a large research project the following day. Whatever each of the three of us were doing, we were not planning to leave the comfort and safety of our rooms until early the next morning. Fate, in the form of a fire, intervened and we were forced to evacuate while the fire fighters attempted to contain the fire. The hotel was a large, multi storied, property, such that we had to quickly gather what we could, walk as briskly down many flights of stairs as possible, then gather outside in the cold winter climate, as far away from the hotel, in order to be safe if it became the “towering inferno.” I have mentioned in previous posts that I consider people who have a Ph. D. in social psychology to be my only colleagues and, on this fateful night, I was indeed in the presence of two colleagues, one of equal status in our workplace and the other, who was our boss. Upon finding one another amidst the chaos of the evacuation, we looked at ourselves and, collectively, burst into laughter upon seeing what were the most important things each of us brought from our room, leaving our remaining belongings to burn in the event the hotel was destroyed (thankfully, it wasn’t!). My colleague and now, dear friend of almost 30 years, dutifully brought all of our employer’s property, such as the video camera, questionnaires, etc., not taking the time to wear anything other than her nightgown, covered by her overcoat, leading her to shiver in the cold night while we waiting for the “all clear” notice to return to our rooms. What a great employee and person she is! Way to go in impressing the boss, Susan! I, on the other hand, left all of my employer’s property behind; instead, I evacuated with my wedding ring and other jewelry, my purse, and my briefcase (after verifying my airplane ticket was safely inside). I also changed clothes so that I was wearing sweat pants and a matching sweat shirt under my overcoat, to brave the cold winter night. The boss, who is British and oh, so very proper, spent his precious few minutes before evacuating changing into a business suit, including a tie! He brought nothing with him, but he was well dressed for a crisis! Despite our similarities as social psychologists, we couldn’t have been any more different in prioritizing what was of utmost importance to us. Susan and I have had many laughs over the years about this incident, concluding that evacuating a hotel during a fire reveals a lot about one’s “true” personality! After several hours, we were allowed to return to our rooms, but we knew each other on a different level from that point on. What would you take if you only had a few minutes to leave a burning building?

Melissa’s travels for work are far greater than mine, yet, on one occasion, she and I were together when the fire alarm sounded. Fortunately, we were in a much warmer climate and our response to the alarm had the benefit of learning from her prior experience. We dressed for the weather, which though warm, was in a location with the potential biting bugs (no see ums and mosquitoes) requiring some degree of cover up. And, I carried my briefcase, laptop, etc. to the outdoor pool deck area where, after walking down several flights of stairs, we found a spot to wait. We had 2 or 3 Research Associates with us on this trip and this was also a night before a research day. Eventually, our Research Associates located us, but I recall only one of them had the foresight to bring our “stuff”; I believe he only brought the video cameras. As readers of this blog know, we debrief after every project, so not only did we cover the somewhat inadequate response, but we discussed proper protocols (some of which have subsequently entered our policy manuals) about such emergencies. The primary one is to quickly locate everyone on the team to ensure their safety and to work together to collectively protect our stuff, as well as ensure minimal disruption to the rapidly approaching client work. Though the apparently false alarm was resolved in about an hour, we were a little more tired than normal the next day. Nonetheless, the “show” the next day went on as planned without a hitch related to the fire alarm. It was a bit disappointing to realize that it was not “common sense” for our Research Associates to quickly locate us and that they didn’t grasp the need to ensure the integrity of the project by bringing with them a few additional critical items. But, as noted, this was a learning experience, one we hope not to have to repeat, though we’ll hopefully, collectively, respond more appropriately should it happen again one day.

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