Not quite a fire

While not a disaster this incident demonstrated the importance of practicing disaster responses and recovery strategies, rather than accepting training at face value and not asking questions.

While on my student placement I joined my new team at a specialist subject library full of enthusiasm at the same time as a colleague who had just landed her first professional role. We took part in a lot of training and orientation sessions together. My interest and knowledge in the subject matter meant I could help my colleague understand some of the inevitable jargon; while her recent qualification meant she could help me out with applying theory to practice. All told and excellent start.

The day came when all the experienced members of the team were unavoidably out of office leaving the library service in our hands for the day. We were confident, excited, determined to demonstrate that we could be trusted with the responsibility. Unfortunately my colleague also chose that day to make toast at work for the first time in our little kitchen. The kitchen fire detector turned out to be a heat sensor not a smoke sensor with predictable consequences.

Our library fire system was linked with the medical centre next door leading to the whole med centre being evacuated. However, we knew it was a false alarm so rather than running outside I tried to contact the fire service to explain that we didn’t need a full response, just someone to switch the alarm off. Attempts to contact the fire service via a non-emergency number became increasingly desperate and we gradually realized that the library fire alarm wasn’t automatically connected to the Fire Service as we’d been told; so no one was coming. We had to contact someone. I decided a lateral approach was called for and called the onsite Police service for advice. A very calm Inspector assured me that he would arrange for the fire service to sort the problem out for me and that he knew who to call. I made it clear this was a false alarm not wanting to divert vital resources from any potential “real” situation.

Two fire engines later, a lot of people bustling about with breathing apparatus the building was declared safe, the alarm finally switched off and the building handed back to two very embarrassed Library Assistants.

So, when you get the fire tour of your new place of work don’t take it at face value. We should have asked:

1 How do you know the alarm is connected to the fire service automatically? If there had been a real fire no one would have called the fire service because we all thought the alarm was connected to the fire brigade. Procedures were changed to say “call emergency services”

2 Have response times been tested as well as the function of the alarm?

3 Where are sensors located, are they appropriate for the area they are in?

4 I had called the onsite emergency services number but was shocked when instead of speaking to our friendly local switchboard operator I received the standard “Emergency services, which service do you require?” response that you’d get from a 999 call. So I put the phone down not wanting to call external emergency services to an onsite problem. (We had been warned in our orientation not to call 999 but to call onsite services first and let them assess the need for external help. We weren’t warned that the internal emergency number switchboard response mimicked the 999 call handler leading to my confusion).

So when you get your fire evacuation orientation training at work – Don’t assume – Check!!

 My esteemed colleague decided not to eat the by now cold toast and went to the shop for a belated sandwich. The toaster “bought it”.


Every flood Has a Silver Lining? The Florence Flood of 1966

by Allie Newman

Florence, Italy has been known as a cultural center for centuries, earning such grand attributes as “The Athens of the Middle Ages” and “The Birthplace of the Renaissance”. Once the home of the affluent and powerful Medici family, and later the capital of the Kingdom of Italy, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the public and private collections of the city were home to some of the world’s most precious artworks, books, and records. The city also fostered the establishment and growth of world-renowned institutions such as the Uffizi, the Archives of the Opera del Duomo, and the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale. Unfortunately, in spite of all of its positives, Florence had one very large strike against it: it was complacent.

The River Arno, which runs through the heart of the city, burst its banks in 1557, causing a great deal of damage as well as loss of life. This was before the beginning of the construction of the Uffizi and less than 100 years after the rise of the Medici family, so it was considered to be an issue of the past- after 409 years, the destructive nature of the Arno had largely been forgotten. However, in November 1966, Florence became quickly and harshly reacquainted with the river’s bad side. After a period of heavy rain, flood waters rushed through the city in the early hours of the morning, ultimately rising to 22 feet in some areas. The water was damaging enough, but the floodwaters also carried with them oil and sewage, which added a new dimension of contamination.

1. Flood water in the Piazza del Duomo

When the water receded, it left behind a recovery project the likes of which the world had never seen. Tragically, tens of thousands of artworks, books, and records were completely destroyed, with no hope of recovery. Tens of millions of others were severely damaged, and needed immediate attention in order to stop active degradation, particularly in the badly affected Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale. Into this grim situation descended hundreds of volunteers willing to assist in any way they could, as well as a host of expert conservators. Figures that would go on to lead the field of book conservation, such as Christopher Clarkson and Nicholas Pickwoad, helped to develop and implement some of the first batch paper conservation at the Biblioteca, including mass deacidification and mass drying. In addition, a nine step system was developed in order to give books and papers the treatment they required as quickly as possible.

2. Mass paper drying in the Biblioteca

The flood, while devastating, caused somewhat of a Renaissance of conservation not only in Florence but throughout the world. Institutions, horrified at the destruction in Florence, rushed to hire conservators and construct detailed disaster plans. The flood and recovery efforts became the fodder for thousands of field-advancing journal articles and lectures, and damaged books allowed binding structures and materials to be studied in ways that would have been impossible otherwise. Pickwoad refers to the flood as “the birth of modern book conservation and bibliography,” and historians tend to agree with him. It is difficult to view a flood or any other disaster as anything but terrible and destructive, but in fact they can provide amazing opportunities for the development of skills and the improvement of the field as a whole.

California Telephone Museum: Completely Destroyed in 2015 Wildfire

I racked my brain to think of something I could post about in regards to a personal situation that had occurred, but other than my friend and my dad both receiving the wrong prescriptions on various occasions there was little else I could think about that would be able to fill a whole blog post. So when this story landed in my inbox at the beginning of last week I was pretty pleased! (Obviously not about the fact the whole museum was burnt to the ground – but because it meant I had something to write about!)

The JKL Museum before the fire.

The John K. La Rue (JKL) Museum of Telephony (also known as the American Museum of Telephony) was located near the town of San Andreas in California and along with surrounding residences was completely destroyed by fire on September 10th 2015. Due to this being such a recent even there is little known if anything at all has survived, although the JKL Museum’s blog states that it is unlikely as firefighters informed workers that the whole museum had ‘burned to the ground’.

The museum was dedicated the preserving the history of various telephones and their history and it is said to have contained thousands of telephones, telephone switching boards along with other telephone equipment, books and catalogues from the late 1800s to the present day.

Six days after it had burned down fire crews were still at the scene as it was still smoking. A representative from the museum also issued a blog post stating that they intended to rebuild the museum but of course it would take much time and planning and that they were hoping to replace much of the unique trove of telephones that they had unfortunately lost.

The museum also maintained an archives library containing catalogs, brochures, and telephone company publications,all of which have been destroyed in the fire, some of which will be very hard if at all possible to replace.

Volunteers are currently being gathered in order to help with the rebuilding of the collection and to help find anything that is not completely ruined (although unlikely). However, the mangers of the museum have stated that they most certainly will rebuild, so I guess we need to watch this space and see how they do this! Fingers crossed it doesn’t take too long.

All photographs courtesy of JKL Museum website -> JKL Museum

Information gathered from below sources:
Article from the Observer
Article from
JKL Museum Blog
Article from NetworkWorld