A Public Bathroom, A Fire, And A Choice to Make

Illustration by the awesome Kathleen Foley

If you’re on the toilet in a public restroom, and the fire alarm goes off, do you chance it?

I was plagued with this conundrum the other day, and I didn’t have a clear answer. And, truly, I believe this is an issue worth addressing.

My work place held a fire drill recently, and the timing was unfortunate. I was sitting at my desk, when suddenly Cheerios, milk, a plain bagel, two chocolate chip cookies and a small free decaf coffee teamed up Avengers-style, and was directed by Joss Wheadon to do the one thing he does best: kill a loved one. More specifically, my stomach loved the aforementioned foods it harbored, and in turn, they destroyed it the way that stars are destroyed- in a massive explosion of gas and matter.

So, I clutched my stomach, and prepared to stand up and make my way to the bathroom. Just then, a screaming alarm filled the entire building. As everyone jumped, I wondered, How do they know I have an emergency?

Of course, I did not really believe the building had alarms that react to the states of my own ones and twos, but the situation was dire. Instead of heading to a stall, though, I had to make my way outside with 600 other people.

For a moment, I considered going against fire drill procedure and rushing to the bathroom. But there were too many witnesses around.

So, after the words “Oh, dear Zeus why won’t you help me after all the turtles I sacrificed to you” passed through my panicked mind, I became preoccupied with another thought: What if I had already been in the bathroom?

Personally, depending on whether fire drill protocol called for supervisors to check all the stalls for stragglers, I believe I would have stayed.

But what if the fire was real? Do. You. Chance. It?

Let’s explore the benefits and downfalls of staying on the toilet, while everyone else evacuates what possibly might be a burning building.


  1. So, let’s say you refuse to give up your seat amidst a blaring fire alarm. First off, I’m sure this impedes your ability to do your business. Nothing contributes more to constipation than stress. And nothing creates more stress than sitting on a toilet, pants down to your ankles, and something yelling “Fire! Fire! Fire!” at you. Although, it is my experience that Train’s “Soul Sister” is always playing in bathrooms, so a screaming alarm might be a nice, refreshing change. Also, how do I explain all the noise to the person I’m talking to on the phone? I’m one of those people, who need to constantly be doing something, while on the toilet. I don’t know why. I get bored easily. If you’ve been doing something all your life, everyday, one, two, and after eating a McRib, maybe seven times a day, it gets boring after awhile. So, yes, I need my phone. I need my iPod. But with a fire alarm in the background, it might get really awkward with whomever I may call: Unlucky Friend: What’s that sound? Me: The fire alarm. Unlucky Friend: Where are you? Me: There’s a fire alarm. Everybody’s outside. Unlucky Friend: But the alarm sounds so close. Where are you? Me: Flush. And, of course, I’m one of those people, who would need to tweet about the whole thing. The whole http://www.world would know my embarrassing situation, anyway. In fact, now I feel bad for all those Politicians, who got caught doing unnumbered things in bathrooms. They were probably bored and forgot their smart phones, and, “Hey! There’s a stranger’s foot! Let’s see where this goes.” Full disclosure: odds are, I’m probably writing this weird piece from the comfort of a Target bathroom stall right now.
  2. Now, consider that the alarm was just a drill. You did your business, flushed, washed your hands and left with a smile. Except that somehow one person knew. And then word gets around. Everyone finds out. Also picture in your mind (not that anything in this piece should be envisioned) that there was an actual fire. You still survive, but the firefighters get whiff (#sorry) of someone in the bathroom, and rescues you. Now, you’re not a liar. You don’t want anyone thinking that you started the fire. So, you tell them the truth. You were in the middle of something and couldn’t be inconvenienced enough to stop. In either scenario, you will always be that person who risked death by fire, because you have the same self-control over your own body that a 2-year-old does.
  3. Okay, so you take the chance. There’s a real fire. You die. And your significant other will tell people that he or she found detailed plans in your suitcase that talk about burning down buildings. You will be labeled a terrorist. And she will be the woman who accidentally married a terrorist. But that will be better than explaining your fatal decision as, “Well, I guess my husband just really needed to go.”


Well, at least you’d be able to say that when faced with the possibility of death, you stuck to your guns that one time.

So, what would you choose?


2 thoughts on “A Public Bathroom, A Fire, And A Choice to Make

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