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I can't fall asleep unless sirens are blaring, passersby are talking way too loud and horns are honking. So it goes for us lifelong New Yorkers. Recently, however, I was drifting off to the whir of the fire engines many blocks away, and as usual, it drew closer and louder; however, instead of the distress signals fading into the distance again, the sound remained ear-splitting. The swirling lights from the fire trucks combined with the street lamps shining through our shuttered windows made it look almost like daylight. I got up and saw the hook and ladders, as well as ambulances, parked on both sides of our two-way street. I called the doorman to find out which building was on fire. "This one." I felt like I was in some bad Abbott and Costello skit, where Lou backs into a stove and as his pants smolder he unknowingly turns to Bud and asks, "Is something burning?" To which is partner replies, "Yeah, you." I was told the fire was contained to one apartment and that all tenants were instructed to stay in their apartments with their front doors closed. Since the FDNY is the best of the best, we followed instructions. There's nothing more comforting, albeit frightening, than watching firefighters RUN to the rescue. There were also the ones climbing the cherry pickers to fight the blaze from the outside, as their brothers on the inside knocked the glass out of the windows for ventilation and hosed the place down. My children were away, or I'd have been having a nervous breakdown. Instead, I had a mere panic attack as I, along with my husband, stared from our living room window, envying the lookie-loos who had gathered across the street and were free to run away if need be. Hours later, fire out, our building would begin its recovery. The next day tenants assembled under the awning and in the lobby voicing concern for our neighbor who remains in critical condition, and wondering how long our other neighbor, who was flooded, would have to stay in a hotel. Naturally, everyone mentioned what they were doing when the alarm bells rang, the way people used to recount where they were when President Kennedy was shot. I did not stick around because I might have found myself admitting that, even though I've heard the phrase "STOP, DROP, and ROLL since about 3rd grade, I believe I would have stopped, dropped my jaw and the only thing rolling would have been tears. I thought it time to pay a visit to to keep handy the "What to do in case..." reminders. After the fact, but still. The site suggests that we maintain our smoke detectors. Oh, yeah. The batteries don't change themselves. Don't use the elevators, and crawl low under the smoke. Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. All things you've heard before, right? We're New Yorkers. Been there. Done that. We know. You'd be surprised how what you know becomes a blur when your building's ablaze. The FDNY website (which leads you to their section on also instructs on how to ease a burn: cool water; save butter for your toast. Not to throw water on your romantic notions, but there's a whole page dedicated to "candle safety." They even explain what to do after the fire, such as salvaging smoke- and water-soaked items; preserving food; replacing documents, money, and personal records; as well as listing insurance contacts. May you never have to use this information. Lorraine Duffy Merkl is an Upper East Sider. Her column appears every other week.

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