The night before we were to check out of our rented loft in a Stockholm apartment building, a fire broke out across the hallway, a few steps from our door.
I was down in the underground laundry room wearing an ultra light layer (the hot day had heated up the building, but a windy cold front was beginning to arrive outside). My boyfriend was 5-7 floors up from me (depending on how you count them), in our attic loft.
My boyfriend heard screaming and glass blowing out, saw people out on the street, horrified, while they stared up at our building. He didn't know what they were shouting.
He heard loud commotion in the stairwell and smelled smoke. When he carefully opened the door to see if he could safely escape through the only route, smoke billowed in on him. He quickly closed it.
He opened the windows to clear the air, saw the firemen, and knew he faced his best chance for rescue (where the ladder truck was).
But then smoke began coming in from those windows. So he closed those windows and put himself out on the opposite deck. But no firemen were on that side of the building and now the smoke was coming over the roof, making it hard to breathe on the deck. He found a corner hole of fresher air.
Firemen came through our door, several times, while my boyfriend was out on the deck, but he couldn't see/catch them until the last time. They were looking for people, plus access to adjoining apartments from ours.
They told him he could now go down the stairs, but my boyfriend worried where I was at this point (he knew I had no phone, no wallet, and he had no idea where the laundry room even was, which was my fault). They reassured him that I was probably out on the street, as the fire appeared contained to one unit.
I’d stayed in the basement, a bit scared by strange noises and smells I could not place, thinking someone was doing chaotic maintenance or having an altercation above me.
I wanted to avoid the single stairwell until it was clear. After quite a while, I finally heard a change and emerged from the basement, confused, and eventually ended up on the street, with five fire trucks and near as many ambulances. But no other people were there. Not only had I long missed my boyfriend, but I’d missed the entire building of tenants and all the emergency workers.
After a couple of hours in opposite locations, a couple of cheek-kissing street grandmas providing comfort, and some colder temps, I saw his sweet face.
His look of worry said so much.
The fire and police did such a kind, swift sweep of the entire scene, putting the fire out faster and cleaner than one can imagine possible. They made us feel so safe and they were there for us throughout the entire night.
The smell of the smoke sat in our loft, on our things, with the residue sticking to our tongues.
We didn't sleep much. I showered and packed to check-out, while doing an overdue backup of all my old SIM cards. My boyfriend is now the official carrier of the emergency grab bag and we are reminded to take good care of ourselves and others, so as to help prevent such tragedies.
So what was our vital travel safety reminder? There are actually five:
Know the word for "fire!" in your host country.
Know how to dial emergency services in your host country.
Know all the potential escape routes from your lodging.
Bring your cell phone, credit card, and wear layers when you leave your lodging to go do things like laundry.
Have a predetermined emergency meet-up spot near your lodging.
P.S. How does mindfulness play into this?
For myself, staying in the basement, breathing, and patiently waiting for chaos to cease…helped keep me calm. I felt like I was protecting myself the best way I could. Of course, I had no idea what was really happening.
Then, oddly, once I emerged and could see what was really happening (and once I was told my boyfriend was safe), I remained calm. Because after having spent much of my life exposed to domestic abuse, there is a peaceful calm and a sense of relief that overcomes me when I see a community fully aware of and handling a difficulty together. Thus, because everyone knew exactly what was happening, the experts were handling it, and nobody was in this alone, I defaulted to a calm state of awareness and choice, even using humor to express difficulty.
There is an entire side to this situation that I’m not sharing publicly (the story of the neighbor, the neighbor’s behavior toward their family, and what had been going on behind the scenes before this neighbor’s fire), as it’s not my story to tell publicly. But we witnessed red flags that we certainly now wish we’d listened to, a terrible tragedy occurred, and our near tragedy became all too clear, afterward.
This is when some shock and disbelief set in.
So it took a couple of days of snuggling and breathing (plus a trip to Fotografiska), to finish soothing our nerves. And, as fate would have it, while at the Fotografiska restaurang, sipping a RSCUED smoothie, one of our kind rescuers actually appeared and sat down at the table in front of us.