The Wheelchair Emergency Conundrum

We’ve all seen the signs next to elevators that look like this:


Often when I see one of these, I pause to think about being on the 37th floor of a building as it’s rapidly being engulfed in flames.   I believe my thought process would go something like this: 

  1. Can I really not use the elevator just because the building is on fire?
  2. Probably a bad idea to try because the only thing I can imagine that’s worse than dying in a fire is dying in a fire in a closed elevator turned oven.
  3. Ok time to look for the strongest guy who looks like he’s up for the workout of his life, carrying me down 37 flights of stairs. 

 Assuming I find said buff guy, and he is in fact fit enough to haul me down so many stairs–Hooray! I am saved.

Far more likely I imagine, is that rather than hanging out with Hulk Hogan on the 37th floor, I’ll be surrounded by people who more closely resemble Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory.  This being the case, I am stuck and die horribly– probably. 

It won’t surprise you that I have asked many a building manager what exactly I’m supposed to do during this nightmare scenario, and I always get the same answer: wait by the stairwell and someone will be up to get you.   I imagine this someone he speaks of is a big burly firefighter who is probably adept at carrying someone like me down 37 floors.   That being said, the thought of sitting back and waiting for rescue goes against every shred of common sense and ounce of self-preservation that I posses.  The same “sit and wait” attitude holds true not only for fires, but airplanes too apparently. 

I travel quite a bit, and sometimes an extra attentive flight attendant will brief me on emergency procedures.  Aside from the customary “insert the flat clip into the buckle” demonstration, they will make sure to inform me that I will be the last person off the plane if something goes horribly wrong.   That’s not incredibly reassuring.  There are a few places where being last off is a great thing; unsurprisingly, a smoldering plane is not one of them.  

I can understand the reasons why these policies are in place for emergencies, but constantly being reminded not to attempt to save myself is silly.  I can guarantee that I would figure out how to scoot myself down stairs, or through the aisle of an airplane if the only other option is death.   I’m not sure how many disabled people have died during emergencies due to a lack of safe egress, but I’m sure it has been more than a couple.  I don’t know the fix for this emergency situation dilemma, but perhaps there should be some more robust measures in place—or at least an equally informative sign for what to do in case of emergency except just to “use stairs”

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