In Case of Fire, Pray to St. Florian

TALIM Fire extinguishers You know that Tangier is extremely humid, even when it's not raining.  You also know that the historic American Legation building is stone, cement, plaster, and concrete, materials in use in our 18th through 20th century buildings.  And that these walls are soaking wet (so says our new moisture meter).  So who's worried about fire safety?

It turns out that we're also 50% wood and other flammable material.  Beams, lath, parquet floors, windows, shutters, doors (and doors-within-gates), etc.  Not to speak of furniture, picture frames, and books, lots of books.  Oh yes, and I'm not really sure that our mazout or fuel oil supply is all that secure.  We are flammable.  Highly.

That tag you see is from a fire extinguisher, last inspected in 2003 (ignore the reference to "monthly").  We have some two dozen of them, which had been distributed across our 45-room, 5-building, 5-staircase institution.  TALIM Fire Extinguishers tagI'm glad the tag says that it was in "Good" condition…  eight years ago.  Apparently even that's not reassuring, given some companies' practice of sandblasting old extinguishers down to the metal case, painting them shiny fire engine red, like new! Contents: untouched.

Someone, seeing my collection of fire extinguishers, suggested that we could save money by collecting the dust that has built up in our courtyard from the wall and roof resurfacing project.  Makes great fire extinguisher refill material, they tell me.  Inshallah.

I missed National Fire Prevention Week last October, but I can't wait until International Firefighters Day in May.  Fire safety is now, so… we're having a fire drill!  No, bad timing. Did Noah have a fire drill in the Deluge?

Well, the rain stopped this afternoon for a bit, so we gave it a try.  Not the tagged A-B-C hand-held models, but the old-time fire hoses that are found throughout the Legation, installed probably when this place was still a functioning diplomatic post (i.e., pre-1962, or almost 50 years ago).

TALIM Fire drill I hope that they were tested in the last half century, but I can't be sure.  One thing I know: they remain nicely rolled up, locked in their metal cabinets, with the keys on the inside, behind glass.  Did they ever display the "In Case of Fire, Break Glass" instructions?

By the time our team figures out that the glass slides and was not to be broken, precious minutes have slipped by.  We retrieve the key.  Now, metal door open, we see that the hose – in remarkably good shape after all these years – is not connected to the spigot.  More minutes. 

The hose is attached and unfurled, with Ahmed (left) heading for our thankfully imaginary fire.  Open the spigot.  Nothing.  Water does not go to that particular hydrant (is that the proper term?).  Oh well, maybe we won't have any fires in our library, filled with 8,000 rare volumes on Morocco. We are toast.

Until we get working – and regularly inspected – fire extinguishers, along with water to our fire hoses, we don't have a prayer in the event of a fire.

Therefore, my resolution for the next Fire Prevention Day: build a marabout to St. Florian.

Saint Florian is the patron saint of firefighters.

Gerald Loftus

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