Emergency Situations, Hotel Stays and Mobility: Question of the Week

Patient Expert

It was supposed to be the perfect trip. We were celebrating Dan's 40th birthday with a couple of his closest friends in a fantastic city, Chicago.

And the best part: We had tickets to see Dan's favorite, Bruce Springsteen and his legendary E Street Band at Wrigley Field.

Sounds like a perfect trip, right?

It was, but while we were there, I experienced one of the scariest moments of my life"

"Wake up Jennifer" Dan frantically said.

I tried to shake him off because I do enjoy my sleep, but he kept shaking my shoulder.

"WAKE UP JENNIFER!" he emphatically stated yet calmly continued, "The fire alarm in the hotel is going off and we need to evacuate."

As the seriousness of his words started to sink in, I opened my eyes. It was about 2:30 in the morning and our room's fire alarm light was flashing and I heard the hotel's alarm sounding.

Again Dan told me to get up and so he could help transfer me into my chair, only now he sounded a little less calm.

"Don't worry about shoes, just grab the room key and let's go!"

Which we did.

Me in my pajamas and bare feet, Dan had at least put on shoes and shorts. Together we ventured out into the hotel's hallway. Like animals not knowing what to do, we followed one another and the hotel's other frightened guests toward the end of the hall in hopes of finding the hotel's fire escape.

Which, once again, we did.

But at that moment we remembered that our lovely room was on the third floor.

Should we take the elevator down to the ground floor? No. We saw many a sign reading, "In case of emergency, PLEASE USE STAIRS."

How was I supposed to get me and my wheelchair to safety? My amazing, chivalrous husband was wondering the same thing, but we kept following the crowd to the fire escape just off the main hallway.

Never experiencing an emergency like this, I naively imagined that the fire escape would be composed of some type of elaborate accessible ramp system.

Really, that's what I thought.

I mean, after all, we were staying in the hotel's accessible room. Surely they planned for situations like this. Well, didn't they?

Sadly, as I reached the crowded exit it became clear to me that no, in fact they did not. There were no ramps and, as if being on the third floor wasn't problem enough, there was about a six-inch drop from the hotel hallway floor to the fire escape. All I was thinking was, "If I damage my chair making that drop all because some drunken reveler 'accidentally' pulled the fire alarm, I'm going to punch someone in the face!!"

Generally I'm not a violent woman, but it was 2:30 in the morning, I was cold, and well, I just didn't want to wreck my essential power wheelchair.

I stayed inside contemplating what to do for a few minutes before hotel guests started reentering the hotel grumbling about this emergency either being a prank or a false alarm. We all returned to our rooms, eager to go back to sleep and forget about this miserable experience.

As Dan and I tried to calm down from this excitement, we couldn't help but think what we would have done if this was a true emergency. I've fretted about this incident a few times over the past few weeks, but I've found some information that has put my mind a little more at ease.

According to the United Spinal Association, "Areas of refuge are fire rated safe havens on a building's upper and below-grade floors designed for persons with mobility impairments to await further evacuation from the responding fire company. These areas can be provided in stair landings, elevator lobbies or an area that is properly fire-rated, and provides two-way emergency communication so that a wheelchair user can alert authorities to his or her location."

It seems like we handled the situation correctly, but this scare has made me think about fire safety a little differently. Maybe I'm being overly paranoid, but I feel safest on the hotel's ground floor and often request first-floor accommodations if available.

So how about you? Do you worry abut things like this happening to you? How much is your mobility a factor when you plan overnight hotel stays? And, do you develop an evacuation plan in case of an emergency?