My son Jordan and I headed to the SR-70 Walmart this afternoon to pick up sneakers, sunglasses and dinner. Unfortunately, we only got the sunglasses. While I was in the optical department at the front of the store I remembered we left our JoeyTotes reusable shopping bags in the car. I sent him out to get them. After I finished my optical purchase I waited for Jordan in the walkway between the main entrance and the men’s department.
While I was waiting I heard a woman yell, “Fire!” I turned in the direction of her voice and saw a pillar of flames rising up about 8 feet in the middle of the men’s department. I turned to see if Jordan was entering the store and he wasn’t. I turned back towards the fire and now there are dozens of customers surrounding the men’s department. Suddenly a second pillar of flames shot up toward the ceiling. I turned to the Walmart greeter, who was still just standing their oblivious to what was going on and I said, “There’s a fire in the men’s department call 911.” She steps away from where she was standing, next to a phone, to see for herself before she went back to call 911. I stepped forward and started telling customers to back away from the area-but I couldn’t leave from being in sight of the front door until my son came back in and knew where I was. I turned back to the greeter and ask where the fire extinguishers were and she said, “Don’t worry, they’ll get it.” I wondered, “Who’s they?” There was still no Walmart employee taking charge of this situation.
Jordan entered the store just as a third column of fire stretched up from the men’s department. He asked what was going on because he saw a man run by him with a fire extinguisher. I pointed to the men’s department just as someone was putting out the fires with a fire extinguisher. As the fires were extinguished and the residual smoke rose toward the ceiling the alarm finally went off in Wal-Mart, I would guess maybe 2 minutes from the time the woman yelled, “Fire!” Now that the alarm was going off Walmart employees started yelling at customers to leave the building immediately. Customers who had witnessed the whole thing were wondering why they had to leave now since the fire was out. Other customers were running due to the panic in the voices of the Walmart employees. Customers were leaving their shopping carts by the front door as they fled the store, this made it difficult for others to exit the building. Some customers walked out with what they had in their hands-paid for or not. We saw one man in the parking lot later trying to figure out what to do with a Swiffer Sweeper he had accidentally walked out of the the store with.
We exited the store and stood with the other customers up against the front of the building for about 3 minutes. As we were standing there we witnessed panicked parents yelling at their kids who had separated from them in the store,and a bewildered elderly woman whose daughter was trying to explain why they couldn’t finish shopping Then the fire department showed up. As the emergency vehicles pulled in to the parking lot, Walmart employees told everyone to move away from the building and into the parking lot. Couldn’t they have said that as soon as everyone was exiting the building? Now we had to cross through the parking lot as the emergency vehicles were trying to pull up to the front of the building-it wasn’t very safe. We went to our car and sat marveling at the fact that many employees were congregating under trees in the parking lot smoking while customers were entering the parking lot and not being told the store was closed.
Walmart employees failed on many different levels during this emergency. Hopefully they will learn from their mistakes.
- As soon as they heard the woman yell “Fire!” or as soon as they were notified employees should have moved customers out of the area immediately instead of allowing dozens to congregate in the area.
- It should never take minutes for someone to come running from another area with a fire extinguisher. There should be extinguishers in every area and employees should be trained in how to properly extinguish a fire.
- Some one should have been able to manually trigger the alarm-which is what the employees seemed to have been trained to respond to-not the visual evidence of fire!
- The store should have been evacuated quickly and smoothly as soon as the fire was reported. Employees should be trained on how to evacuate the store, some should be by the doors to take customers carts and place them out of the way while others are outside directing customers to the parking lot.
- Once the store is evacuated employees could man the entrances to the parking lot so that customers can leave and no new customers come in while the store is closed.
What can you learn from this?
- Don’t be paranoid but always know where all of the exits are to any building you enter.
- Know where your kids are, even your teens, at all times in a store. If they go off, make sure they have a cell phone so you can contact them in an emergency.
- Stay calm and exit any building in an orderly fashion. Don’t let the panic of others to overtake you.
- Stay out of the way of emergency vehicles and personel. I know this sounds basic but today I was witness to the fact that many people have no common sense.
**Update-According to the local news the were were 3 fires set by a disgruntled customer who had been at the customer service counter trying to return some merchandise. He then set the fires and left the store. He was caught 2 hours later trying to return stolen goods to another Walmart in the area.**