Friday, March 30, 2012

Hà Nội is Burning

           I startled awake to the sounds of people yelling! As I slowly opened my eyes, I noticed the orange light leaking trough my window. I looked at my watch, it was 4:45am, but why was the sun rising? After my initial shock waking up, I realized what was really going on: Fire! I rushed to my 4th story window, and the scene below me was one of chaos. In the dim, pale light of a street lamp and the ominous glow of orange reflecting off of walls, I saw people rushing around below me. On the roofs next to the building on fire, men were dropping buckets of water on top of it, to try and quell the flames. Their efforts, valiant as they were, just weren’t going to cut it, though. We needed the fire department. In that instant, I remembered something. I have been living here in Hanoi for around 7 months now, and in that entire time, I have seen 1 fire truck. 1. In a city of around 2.5 million, I have only seen 1 fire truck. At around 5:15, with the fire still raging, it became apparent that they weren’t coming any time soon. As the sun began to rise, I was able to see the alley more clearly. A small crowd had gathered to witness the now fully burning building. There really wasn't anything they could do at this point. Then, at 5:40, about an hour after the spectacle had begun, the cavalry arrived. At first it was a distant siren that soon came closer and closer. Then, our brave (and very late) heroes came running down the alley with a long hose in tow. The crowd stepped back to let them through. Then, all of a sudden, everyone began scattering and running away from the house (from my window I couldn't see the front). I nearly had a heart attack because for a second I though the building was coming down! Thankfully tough, it turned out to be just a misdirected fire hose. As it started up, I suppose it was accidently aimed at the crowd of on-lookers. For the next 20 minutes or so, the firefighters worked to control the burn. By 6, the fire seemed mostly under control. I could no longer see smoke. Remembering that I had to leave for school in about an hour, I got back into bed, and rested for half an hour, thinking about what I had just witnessed.

            It took the Hanoi fire department nearly an HOUR to get to the scene of the emergency. Think about how long an hour is during an emergency, especially a fire. Think about how much happens in that hour. If there had been people trapped in the top floors, not only would they have died, but they would have been dead for a long time by the time the firefighters got there. In the US, it would be outrageous to wait 10 minutes for a fire truck to arrive at the scene of a major fire, let alone an hour. If that happened in the US, it would probably make the news! Also, it was 5 in the morning. There is no traffic at 5 in the morning. Had this happened at 8 am, they’d probably still be on their way. There is actually a staggeringly high rate of people who die on route to the hospital in ambulances here because of traffic in Hanoi. But that's a different story for a different day. After seeing this, it really is no surprise that the traffic fatality rate is so high here, when it takes first responders an hour to get somewhere, that's about 50 minutes too late.


  1. Wow that must have been scary!!!
    A SBMS student from Jim's Geography Class

  2. Wow. That must be terrifying. Watching a building burn to the ground with minimal resistance would be hard. Just knowing that a fire is relatively close to you would be scary, let alone watching the house next door burn for an hour.
    -Quinn, a student at SBMS

  3. Thats crazy!!!!
    An SBMS student.