Here’s another fun fact about my school, my apartment, and it seems many buildings in Bulgaria: There are no smoke detectors or fire alarms.
A few weeks ago, the electrical wiring around one of my colleague’s computers spontaneously burst into flame about ten minutes before first period started. Either the electrical surge that caused the fire or the fire itself then killed all of the electricity in the building – this was how I even knew anything was going on, even though it was only two doors down from me: my computer suddenly turned off (this in itself, though, is not actually that unusual an occurrence) and my phone shut down. About ten seconds after this happened, one of the other teachers ran into my room and said, “Does your phone work? Can you call the main office? There’s a fire!” But since none of our phone works, and there was no automated or pull-activated alarm system in the building, she had to just continue running out of the building and all the way to the administrative offices in another building to get someone to make the call to come deal with the electrical fire, which luckily sort of fizzled itself out before anyone actually got there.
But because we didn’t have a protocol or alarm system in place, the building – full of students because the coffee shop and library are in the same building – never evacuated. Because how were we supposed to evacuate? Walk up to each student and engage in a lengthy conversation about what had just happened? Run around the building yelling, “FIRE!!!!”? We had practiced fire drill procedure earlier in the year, but the notification was an administrator coming to the classroom door and saying, “OK, evacuate now.” There’s just no automated alarm system in place. The teacher whose wiring had caught on fire held her first period in the empty classroom next door while maintenance came and took away the charred remnants of her computer wiring.
This was a serious WTF Bulgaria?! moment. Elevating it to epic WTF-ness is the fact that the school’s electrical systems and wiring had just been inspected over spring break and given the thumbs-up.
Let’s be clear: I don’t know that ANY building in Bulgaria ever actually deserves to get a thumbs-up on their electrical system. Even my apartment block, which is quite new, has frequent fuse problems, and I’ve had ongoing issues with exploding light bulbs and bathroom light bulbs that seem to wiggle themselves out of their sockets every couple of weeks. Couple this with the really charming fact that Bulgaria doesn’t seem to have smoke detectors. Like, any. Apparently, the school looked into installing smoke detectors in all the rooms last year (because, you know, it’s a school full of children and is composed of really old wooden buildings that go up like a tinder box and oh yeah, there’s ALREADY been a major fire in a classroom here a couple years ago) but surmised that the best/only way to actually do this was if all the American teachers brought back several smoke detectors with them after going home to the States for the summer, because they just aren’t to be had in Bulgaria.
Good job, Bulgaria. For a country that’s full of hypochondriacs, you sure are remarkably blase about death by fricassee and/or aspyhyxiation.