Burning Down The House
May 14, 2011 5:09 AM   Subscribe

You can learn a fair bit about a person by asking them what they'd attempt to save if their house was on fire.

The idea was started on May 1st and there are three pages and a bit thus far.
posted by gman (179 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I am certain that it says something about me that my initial response is: I'd save the house.

I'm not sure it says anything particularly flattering about me.
posted by oddman at 5:17 AM on May 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

I see nobody has included their significant other.

I also noted that there is exactly ONE kitty and NO dogs in these pictures.
posted by tomswift at 5:17 AM on May 14, 2011

Definitely a cool concept. I hope the submissions, or the ones that get posted, start to show some variety. These all look like J.Crew ads.
posted by sciurus at 5:18 AM on May 14, 2011 [18 favorites]

This was famously asked of Picasso, in a house stacked high with his art. The questioner was expecting him to reveal his favorite artwork, but his answer was, "the cat."
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:21 AM on May 14, 2011 [49 favorites]

My cynical self tends to believe that these photos are not so much "what I would save if the house is burning" as "what can I take a picture of so people know how cool I am."
posted by tomswift at 5:22 AM on May 14, 2011 [103 favorites]

Cool project, but what the hell. You are going to save your kindle? iPod??

Easily replaceable!

My two dogs are going to be tough enough so I guess the rest will have to burn... Also, this is why offsite backups are crucial!
posted by meta87 at 5:23 AM on May 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

I also noted that there is exactly ONE kitty and NO dogs in these pictures.

There is approximately ONE kitty, in that there are TWO kitties.

But I don't think we're supposed to draw any conclusions from the absence of other pets (including significant others).

I agree, though, that this is another flavor of the "what's in your bag" photo projects, which seem just a way for people to posture about how cool/rich/minimalist/maximalist they are.

I'd save my external hard drives and some art. Everything else is replaceable. Oh, and my SO.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:26 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is why you should always keep an offsite backup of your pets and SO.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 5:29 AM on May 14, 2011 [78 favorites]

I'm pretty sure that after getting shoes on (I would hope my boots, but I'll settle for the first things I find) and chivvying family & pets out, the place would be impossible to get back into.

... I just realized I didn't add pants into that equation. Let's assume I'm already wearing them.
posted by cmyk at 5:32 AM on May 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

"My two dogs are going to be tough enough so I guess the rest will have to burn... Also, this is why offsite backups are crucial!"

I really can't stop laughing at the image of "offsite" backups of my dog.

hmmm.. that photo only shows about .89 cats. (I actually didn't see the one on the left, must be a stealth kitty)
posted by tomswift at 5:32 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

And, like all good backup strategies, you should never have your SO and your backup SO in the same place in case of a catastrophic loss.

Obviously, this is someone else's project so they can do it however they want, but, hey stupid: you don't need to save your Le Creuset. You can buy them anywhere, and they are heavy. We're talking about fleeing a burning building, and you're saving ubiquitously available cast iron?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:34 AM on May 14, 2011 [18 favorites]

The cast iron would probably survive anyway... the heavy metal stuff usually does.

I worked for a guy that had a 1953 Corvette, he kept it stored in our wine warehouse in the winter. The warehouse burned down one night.

He then owned a 1953 corvette engine block, four steel rims, and the springs from the seats, all laid out nicely on the floor.

(we spent the next week sleeping at that warehouse, trying to keep the local kids from stealing what was left, although the fire department walked off with most of the good stuff).

we didn't have a cat in the warehouse.
posted by tomswift at 5:39 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

It is interesting how my initial reaction to seeing objects like the Kindle, digital camera, lap-top was: "those are pieces of technology that are easily replaceable" but many people no longer have photo albums, and many are giving up books in favour of e-readers, etc. People have digital albums backed up on their computers, and their ebooks on their kindle so it makes sense that people would pick up these items. Then again those types of files are easily backed up and recovered.
posted by Fizz at 5:42 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you can buy another it can be left.
I'd trust the cat and dog to leave without being invited first.
What would I really save? Ask me after it happened because until then I have no idea.
posted by episodic at 5:44 AM on May 14, 2011

I think most of these people would save their website first.
posted by swift at 5:44 AM on May 14, 2011 [9 favorites]

You know what? I hope one of these idiots burns up trying to save some worthless tsotchke or effortlessly-replaceable consumer good.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:45 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I could list the things I'd want to save, but if there actually were a fire I'd probably just run around like a panicked Sim, grab a potted plant and a single slipper on the way out the door and somehow lose my glasses.

I'm not ashamed to say I'd be very sad to lose my things though. They're all just as much a part of my memory as the actual bits of my brain that they trigger.
posted by lucidium at 5:45 AM on May 14, 2011 [27 favorites]

I think you have extremely little time to actually save anything in a fire, so I would start by putting my own limbs and facial features on that list.
posted by Harry at 5:48 AM on May 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm confused by how many people grab easily replaced, old but not vintage cameras. A fave lens that is hard to come by, sure. But a Canon 40D? Who cares. You either have insurance to replace it, or can replace it fairly cheaply anyway, and with a much better camera.

Perhaps the assumption is that there are photos on the memory card, but is it worth risking your life for a few photos when you should be saving the hard drive that your backups are on?

Similarly, I don't understand the person that saved their favourite cookery stuff that was bog-standard somewhat high-end stuff you can get at any kitchen store. A little unrealistic to run to the kitchen to save your cast-iron cookery...

And, yes, I know this exercise is about seeing what is important in your life, but as a thought experiment we are supposed to also imagine that we have limited time to save ourselves and others, and that heavy cookery might hinder that ability.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:48 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had to recently do this for real, due to a threat of a tornado. I was taking a nap one afternoon, woke up to serious news flash about tornados potentially heading my way, basically. I quickly packed the following:
-two laptops
-cat insulin
-cat in carrier
-a special necklace in a box that is on my bureau
only because everything was right within easy reach.

Thankfully, I personally didn't have to bail and wasn't affected (it passed by), but a pretty good scare.

But I couldn't imagine running after my favorite jeans or my favorite dress or my favorite skillet . It occured to me that a LOT of favorites would have to be left behind.
posted by foxhat10 at 5:49 AM on May 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

Everyone is very, very ambitious about how much they can grab. The fun of it is that you only get to pick one thing.

I mean, a bike helmet? Really? If you have time to save your bike helmet, your knife, or your sunglasses, you can probably just put the fire out yourself.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:49 AM on May 14, 2011 [15 favorites]

There is a very old folk saying that I just made up:

what you say you would do is often not what you would actually do if in a situation you might be asked about.
posted by Postroad at 5:50 AM on May 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

I would save the Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls my mom made me when I was a baby, my favorite book, and my laptop and hard drive. I really can't think of anything else that would truly be necessary.
posted by lunit at 5:50 AM on May 14, 2011

Also, I'm now imagining a small tribe of post-apocalyptic ex-hipsters, huddling naked around the glow of their iPad in the radioactive snow-covered ruins of their once great city.
posted by Harry at 5:51 AM on May 14, 2011 [15 favorites]

Clarify - the necklace was grabbed simply because I happened to glance that way and it was sitting on my dresser; otherwise, it wouldn't have made the list.
posted by foxhat10 at 5:55 AM on May 14, 2011

I assume anything with legs will flee - there are 3 doors, always open, and it's a bungalow.

-laptop (offsite backup is for organized people)
-my bag of weed (after watching my house burn down I will really need a fattie)

Remember that seen in The Breakfast Club? "Imagine if your dope was on fire." That's me.

I asked my wife. "The suitcase with all our documents," she said. Excellent, so we've got that covered too.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:58 AM on May 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

I learned everyone likes knives.
posted by nathancaswell at 6:00 AM on May 14, 2011

1. Telecaster
2. Gretsch
3. Laptop

The rest of it can burn. Fuck it.
posted by Decani at 6:00 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Okay, who is going to create a parody site of things you'd throw on the fire?
posted by sexymofo at 6:02 AM on May 14, 2011 [20 favorites]

foxhat10, I've done similar when placed under a mandatory evacuation for hurricanes. When you have to decide what's worth hauling out into the car because you're assuming the house won't be there when you get back, you find out what's really important.

Or, if you're me, you find yourself surrounded by dog toys and bottled water and wondering why the hell you forgot your deodorant.
posted by cmyk at 6:03 AM on May 14, 2011 [7 favorites]

Assuming I did not have a laptop from work with client data that I had an ethical duty to save,

1. Guitars
2. Amp
3. The Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln
4. Drum kit.
5. Cowboy boots
posted by Ironmouth at 6:07 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

my apartment building WAS on fire a couple of years ago, when i was about to go to work

i saved my electrical bill because i needed to drop it off that night
posted by pyramid termite at 6:10 AM on May 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

You know what? I hope one of these idiots burns up trying to save some worthless tsotchke or effortlessly-replaceable consumer good.

I hope nobody gets burned up.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:11 AM on May 14, 2011 [31 favorites]

I approached my attic apartment after the firemen had doused the fire. There was a huge hole in the ceiling, sky wide open. Everything was charred black and soaking wet. It really stunk. My SO was there in the midst of all this destruction with a broom in her hands, sweeping up burnt shingles and bits of roof that fell on the floor. "We are doomed," I thought. And we were.
posted by at the crossroads at 6:12 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

My house actually did catch fire quite recently, and it turns out that the answer to this question for me is nothing at all. At no point between finding out that the house was on fire, and getting the fire put out, did I stop to think about or attempt to salvage physical objects of any kind. All I cared about, while the house was on fire, was making sure that the people who lived in the house were safe.

I'm not saying this to try to sound like I'm super nonmaterialistic or better than anybody, because before the house actually caught fire I also participated in lists like this and thought I would, in fact, attempt to save those things. It's just that when it actually happened, nothing crossed my mind except making sure nobody died.

(As it turned out, since we live very close to the nearest fire station, it got put out without doing any severe damage and we didn't lose anything but sleep.)
posted by titus n. owl at 6:13 AM on May 14, 2011 [23 favorites]

Mandatory evac for hurricanes-list would make more sense, what I'd save in a fire is #1 offspring #2 cat (who would be easy to find because he's always sleeping on me one way or another), and if the house isn't caving on on me I'd spend two minutes fishing the turtle out of his tank, poor thing.

If I had to leave the house because the hurricanes are coming and I have 30 minutes to pick things, photo albums, clothes, laptops and important papers (such as child vaccination records) will be added to the list.
posted by dabitch at 6:13 AM on May 14, 2011

after looking upthread, I realized the client data's already backed up.

As for the drum kit, its a slow burning fire, people!
posted by Ironmouth at 6:14 AM on May 14, 2011

I think I failed

I instantly thought Guitar!

then - ahh, no, my children.
posted by the noob at 6:15 AM on May 14, 2011 [12 favorites]

Husband? Check. Dog? Check. The rest of it can burn, it's just stuff.
posted by workerant at 6:32 AM on May 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

Yeah, just the cats; looking around at the rest of my apartment, there's nothing else I have that even comes close. The bottle of irreplacable scotch is way up there, but the gulf in value between the scotch and a mismatched sock is so much smaller than the gulf between the scotch and the cats.

If I could pick only ONE thing, that would be terrible; how could I choose between Thunder Perfect Cat and Caliban Party Ghost? I could never choose Thunder just one cat Thunder who I somehow arbitrarily Thunder rank as the "best" Thunder Thunder Thunder, so I don't know what I'd do Save Thunder save Thunder sorry Caliban but you spent all night meowing like two balloons rubbed against each other, you had to know this was coming, I don't think I could possibly choose.
posted by Greg Nog at 6:33 AM on May 14, 2011 [93 favorites]

Early one April Fool's day my then high-school age brother Dan decided to pay our dad back for the years of April Fool's pranks that had been played on him. It was a simple plan... in the middle of Dad's morning shower, Dan ran into the bathroom shouting "Dad! The house is on fire!"

Dad didn't miss a beat. He ripped back the shower curtain, grabbed a towel off the rack, sprinted to the bedroom for the checkbook, and then headed out onto the front porch and paused- head full of shampoo, towel around his waist, checkbook in hand - to see my brother rolling around on the front lawn laughing himself to tears.

Towel and checkbook... Douglas Adams would be proud.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 6:38 AM on May 14, 2011 [36 favorites]

the noob: "I think I failed

I instantly thought Guitar!

then - ahh, no, my children.

Just keep in mind that your guitar wasn't privileged enough to be born with legs.
posted by gman at 6:40 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is tougher now Child 2 is no longer safely inside Spouse, though that does mean Spouse is more mobile. Kitty has been thoroughly demoted after Child 2 but I suppose someone should go get him.

I really should make sure more digital stuff is backed up offsite.
posted by Artw at 6:42 AM on May 14, 2011

1. Wife + daughter
2. My work briefcase
3. ...

We do have a fireproof case that is supposed to hold all our important documents, but currently it is being used as a dust collector.
posted by Vindaloo at 6:43 AM on May 14, 2011

A bunch of hard drives, and probably my desktop PC. my digital camera, and I guess my laptop.
posted by delmoi at 6:47 AM on May 14, 2011

Purse - handy to have the stuff in it being newly homeless
Folder of documents - birth cert., passport, immigration papers etc.
Baby blanket my mom made
Jewelry - its small and portable and all in one place
Book my granddad made me

The consumer electronics I would miss but all the really important stuff is backed up in the cloud and most everything else is irreplaceable. There would be some art I would be sad to lose but its too bulky to grab.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 6:55 AM on May 14, 2011

It's weird how the electronic stuff is all now really valuable in terms of usage but also kind of valueless in that the enforced upgrade path means it's out of date and you were looking to get a new one anyway. Only a fool braves a fire for last years iPad.
posted by Artw at 7:06 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Honestly, I can't imagine trying to save much of anything of my things. My purse, I guess, so I'd have access to money, cell and identification and the like. My cherished photos and files are backed up off-site. I can't think of any other possessions I'd really want to save and also be willing to lug down 6 flights of stairs while fleeing from a fire. Maybe the notebooks where I write rough drafts, but even there, anything good has been typed into a computer and saved in the cloud.

In fact, the fire alarm went off last weekend and it wasn't clear whether it was real or fake, and my purse is the only thing I took with me. I guess if I'd really thought it was a fire, I might have also grabbed my passport. Or maybe if I'd really thought it was a fire, I'd have left more quickly and forgotten my purse.

I'm not amaterialistic -- I have a crapload of stuff. There's just not much of it I'm profoundly attached to that I'd try to save it from a fire. No family heirlooms, no highly personal handmade gifts, no expensive jewelry.

Now, if I was on the run from the mafia and had a chance to load up a suitcase and a car, then I have some handknit sweaters (and some unknit yarn) that I might prefer not to lose, and I'd bring along some computer hardware, and all the books on the 'books my friends wrote' shelf.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:11 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

The only thing I'd grab is the hard drive with the backups of my data. Everything else can be replaced.
posted by yeoz at 7:15 AM on May 14, 2011

... although, upon reflection on that, It'd probably make sense to invest in a cloud backup solution, and not grab anything at all.
posted by yeoz at 7:15 AM on May 14, 2011

I have to wonder if any of these folks ever really lost all or most of their stuff. Once that happens, you realize its all just things that can be replaced. One commenter hit it on the head. These pictures simply show how cool I am.
posted by Sparkticus at 7:16 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]




Ah shit, I panicked.
posted by mazola at 7:18 AM on May 14, 2011 [38 favorites]

In Walden, Thoreau notes that among some Am Indians it is customary each year to have a ceremony at which all one's possessions are burned to begin a renewal for the following year cycle. He did not mention anything about wives or children in this ritual.
posted by Postroad at 7:22 AM on May 14, 2011

I live alone, no pets.

The original art of a late-1960's comic book story. Along with some other art, that is the one of the few things I have that is truly irreplaceable.
posted by marxchivist at 7:25 AM on May 14, 2011

When my house caught fire, it was in the upstairs burning for quite some time while everyone was downstairs. By the time we noticed, we didn't have much time to get out, it was pretty much 'do now or die'. The absolute first thing that came to mind, thing I chose to save, was my older sister. She was sitting in the dark living room having a panic attack, unable to move.

My mind didn't go to "oh my goodness, all of my things! What can't I live without?" it went to "Family. Now."
And I can almost guarantee, if anyone else was in that situation, they'd react the same. Stuff is stuff, fuck it.
posted by shesaysgo at 7:26 AM on May 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

In a drawer not far from the door, I have a small box containing my passports, a list of financial information (credit card/account numbers, etc.) a list of important passwords, and a few other irreplaceable things. I could theoretically grab the box on my way out the door, if need be.

When the fire alarm goes off in my apartment, though, I really only grab my purse, keys, and phone...
posted by gemmy at 7:27 AM on May 14, 2011

Box of important papers, onsite hard drive backup, dog, cat. These were part of the plan, waiting in the car about 3 minutes before a tornado was bearing down on our neighborhood last year. I drove away from the projected path and came back half an hour later. Fortunately the house was fine, but an EF4 tornado ended up tearing through and our neighbors lost their houses altogether.

Having a plan, having the stuff ready to go, and being able to carry the plan out swiftly is the key. I snickered a bit at all those tsotschkes and consumer goods laid out in the pictures, but if it's all stored in a special drawer that can be ripped out and carried off, then I have no beef with what's in it.
posted by crapmatic at 7:28 AM on May 14, 2011

I know I wouldn't stop to grab anything, because I very much dislike dying.
posted by desjardins at 7:28 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Exactly how small of a fire are these people expecting, that they can grab so much stuff? A large birthday cake blaze?
posted by orme at 7:30 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I thought the point of the burning house question was that you had to grab something FAST. All these photos show carefully retrieved treasures that, unless they were all kept permanently in a bag by the door, would take a fair amount of time to collect. I want to see the real answers to this question - not these pretentious collections of sentimental treasures.
posted by smartypantz at 7:35 AM on May 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

When I lived in scary summer forest fire land, me and my ex had a very short list for this - each other, the dogs, my glasses, our phones, our passports, and a six-pack.
posted by elizardbits at 7:36 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think my instinct would be to grab shoes, throw a blanket poncho style over my shoulders, and grab my purse.

Fortunately, the blanket closest to hand is usually also the one my great grandma knit for me when I was born. And I usually keep a snack, a book, and my leatherman in my purse. If the end of days comes, I'll thank my dad for making me watch so much Bear Grylls.

Some of these sort of confuse me. You'd go back for a dress and champagne corks? Really? Unless it's all in crapmatic's drawer, I'm just boggled.
posted by chatongriffes at 7:36 AM on May 14, 2011

Not that these "pretentious collections of sentimental treasures" aren't interesting in their own right, just that they have little to do with the actual project.
posted by smartypantz at 7:36 AM on May 14, 2011

I've been making this list for a long time (the same with my lotto winnings list and my Academy Awards speech) and adjusting it accordingly. At the moment is stands at:

1. Children
2. Handbag
3. Keys (if not in handbag)
4. Any nearby pets inside (they're mostly outside)

The rest depend on urgency - if the first four were safely outside and I was able to, I'd go back for:

5. Top drawer of set of drawers in loungeroom (personal papers)
6. As many books as I could throw out the windows
7. My computer
8. The baskets of clean clothes that I haven't put away yet (this is presuming the fire will happen tonight).

All the rest can burn, burn, burn.
posted by h00py at 7:36 AM on May 14, 2011

I lost a lot of sentimental items (photos, books, letters, etc.) in a flood years ago, so I know how that feels... in time, you get over it. Now we have a fireproof, waterproof document box for birth certificates, passports, marriage license, citizenship and adoption papers, etc. (though I would like to stash extra copies off-site). Digital stuff is backed up redundantly, no need to worry about that. After spouse and children, I most worry about the cat. It's hard enough to catch her and put her in the carrier for the annual trip to the vet. I can't imagine trying to do it in an emergency. Also, I would grab my backpack, which goes everywhere with me - it has my wallet, keys, phone, camera, diapers, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, kid snacks, and kid water bottles in it.
posted by candyland at 7:40 AM on May 14, 2011

I am a nihilist. I would save nothing.
posted by Eideteker at 7:42 AM on May 14, 2011

My children... What a weird-ass question. Is there really anyone saying Laptop, then children?
posted by ExitPursuedByBear at 7:44 AM on May 14, 2011

Husband, cat, opening night playbill of Lestat, and playbill where Bea Arthur wrote a love letter to my DH.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:45 AM on May 14, 2011


my wife if she was having trouble

our pet if able
posted by edgeways at 7:56 AM on May 14, 2011

That website totally reminds me of a suitcase version of Fuck yeah! what's in your bag?
posted by pink candy floss at 7:58 AM on May 14, 2011

Scenarios like this are why I have ranked my children according to their usefulness and sentimental value. You never know when you'll be forced to choose and you don't want to make that kind of decision on the spot.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:02 AM on May 14, 2011 [28 favorites]

That website totally reminds me of a suitcase version of Fuck yeah! what's in your bag?

oh my god DO WANT. Not for an iPad, though. I would use that as my posh gala clutch and be so awesome.
posted by elizardbits at 8:06 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

We can close this thread, nobody is going to top Peter's comment....

(wife with five kids just nodded her head when I read that to her.)
posted by tomswift at 8:10 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Must save: husband (if incapacitated), purse, pets - four cats and a dog. I figure I can stuff the cats into our car (if I can exit from the front door), the dog will hang around, but she could go in the car, too.

If I have time: I have a couple cherished items sitting at the base of my computer monitor that I would grab and my pc tower.
posted by deborah at 8:12 AM on May 14, 2011

My copy of Life Laundry: How to Dejunk Your Life.
posted by biffa at 8:20 AM on May 14, 2011

There is so much hipster on that blog.

I, too, would save my various pets and my laptop/hard drives if I had time to grab them. They're usually beside my bed anyways, so it seems likely that I could. My SO is on his own, as he has fully functioning limbs. I would not grab pots, pans, knives, jeans, dresses, corks, bike helmets, paddles (???), or terrifying taxidermy animal heads.
posted by torisaur at 8:21 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

That site is nonsense.

Glasses, wallet, keys, rings, phone. External drives and a laptop if there's time.
posted by limeonaire at 8:24 AM on May 14, 2011

I think this site would be a lot more accurate if they *actually* set all these people's houses on fire. No one's running back inside a burning building to get a fancy shirt, or a bike helmet, or a camera.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:27 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

posted by Sticherbeast at 8:27 AM on May 14, 2011 [15 favorites]

1 - My turtle (she can't exactly escape on her own, being in an aquarium)
2 - Wallet
3 - Phone
4 - bag with scrapbooks in it? Maybe?
5 - file folder with birth certificates, passports etc...not sure if I would actually have the presence of mind to think of this or remember it.
6 - The fiance's violin. Although he would probably take care of that one.

I dunno...looking around my apartment I find it really hard to think of any material objects here I would risk my life for.
posted by bloody_bonnie at 8:27 AM on May 14, 2011

The two stuffed animals I've had my whole life, a wooden box my dad made me when I was 7, and my external hard drive. Depending on what time of year it is, also wool socks and a coat.

I don't live with my SO, so making sure he's ok isn't a concern. And though I don't have pets, my roommate does, but they either hate me (the cats) or are mentally deficient (the dog) and wouldn't let me help them even if they were actively burning.
posted by phunniemee at 8:29 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Aside from PC/hard drives? Social security card, passport and birth certificate, if only because each are a bitch to replace. I have those all stored together.

I'd have no kids, partner, pets or plants to save.
posted by droplet at 8:30 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Cats, wallet, the accordion folder containing all my paperwork and tax stuff, and my primary computer, if at all possible. Everything else is replaceable.

If you want to die in a fire rescuing a teddy bear, well, it's your life.
posted by ixohoxi at 8:32 AM on May 14, 2011

Upon spending a little more time reading the blurbs beneath the photos, it's almost as if the question posed wasn't "What would you save?" but rather "What would you need to live if your house burned down?" Which are two vastly different questions, I would think. It all makes sense now!
posted by pink candy floss at 8:37 AM on May 14, 2011

I bet an awful lot of women would grab their purses without even thinking about it. They're usually convenient to the door and you grab them automatically. I feel weird when I leave the house without my purse.

I suppose it also depends on where you are when the fire starts. I always assume I'm asleep, so my childhood stuffed animal would be quite handy to grab. If I were downstairs, though, all bets are off.

If I had 30 seconds to think about it I might grab some irreplaceable family sentimental things. But if I were grabbing reflexively, it'd be children, husband, pets, and then probably handbag and stuffed animal. More or less in that order. I don't think so well in panic situations so I'm betting it'd be children, husband, pets, purse-if-it-was-by-the-door and then lots of sobbing on the lawn.

A house down the street just had a HUGE housefire. They came out with (small) children and the dog and some wallets/purses/phones that were on or near their bodies at the time and that was it. The children were mostly clutching lovies. The dumb-ass dog ran back in and the firemen, on scene by then, had to get him out a second time and then restrain him and give him oxygen because he REALLY WANTED TO KEEP RUNNING BACK IN.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:39 AM on May 14, 2011

First of all, these hipsters have no kids to save. Second of all they have enough money to replace whatever is lost in the fire. What is saved is saved on the rationale that they can later tell their friends they saved their first edition volume of Das Kapital, their fixed gear Prada bike helmet, and their carved ivory sea-farer's pipe when the loft burned down.
posted by madred at 8:39 AM on May 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

pink candy floss: "Upon spending a little more time reading the blurbs beneath the photos, it's almost as if the question posed wasn't "What would you save?" but rather "What would you need to live if your house burned down?" Which are two vastly different questions, I would think. It all makes sense now!"

Except that one would need exactly the same things to live whether or not their house burned down or not. Food, water, oxygen, shelter. I'm leaning more towards "this is the shit I think is important in my life".
posted by gman at 8:42 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

It was quite an obsucre loft fire, you probably wouldn't have heard about it.
posted by Artw at 8:42 AM on May 14, 2011 [26 favorites]

This is why you need a fire ladder in your house/apartment.

(And for the record, there was at least one post with pets on the 'to save' list who were not pictured.)
posted by yellowcandy at 8:50 AM on May 14, 2011

A lot of these people's things have names. It's not a sweater, it's a 1930’s Spalding Shawl Collar Sweater. It's not a belt, it's a Ralph Lauren Alligator Belt.

In my world, we have words like "book bag" and "shirt".
posted by phunniemee at 8:51 AM on May 14, 2011 [13 favorites]

1) Spouse Ok? Ok!
2) Cats!
3) File box with Important Shit in it.

posted by everichon at 8:51 AM on May 14, 2011

Either save her or your cocaine from the fire.
posted by mistersquid at 8:54 AM on May 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

1. Tell spouse to get kid and cat
2. Grab Mac Mini (easy to take, and we're gonna need one of our computers)
3. Try to be wearing pants
4. If I'm lucky, my purse and cellphone.

Everything else we can replace with better. And the pants are strictly for vanity.
posted by emjaybee at 8:57 AM on May 14, 2011

I might actually be able to grab my laptop on the way out the door, since it's generally sitting on a table a few feet away, but I'm not sure I'd think of it.

The silver-plated Martin C-Melody saxophone I carefully restored when I was 16 and have treasured ever since lives nowhere near any conceivable path to any exit. It would melt, and I would miss it.
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:02 AM on May 14, 2011


When I lived in Austin, a large apartment complex on our block burned down. It was an immense fire that had spread to the roof of the complex, and threatened the nearby strutures. They were also unable to turn off the gas lines to that block, so there was also the threat of explosion.

We were ordered to evacuate, and as we huddled in a parking lot a block away, awaiting further instructions, I got to see what people would save. I grabbed - nothing. I think I had my keys and wallet. My good friend from the next building over grabbed his favorite acoustic guitar; I remember him softly playing "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" as a woman who lived in the burning complex exited her car and cried out when she saw what was happening. My favorite was my roommate. He grabbed his favorite stuffed animal he had had since he was a child - and the tiny kitchen fire extinguisher.
posted by louche mustachio at 9:09 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Harry: Also, I'm now imagining a small tribe of post-apocalyptic ex-hipsters, huddling naked around the glow of their iPad in the radioactive snow-covered ruins of their once great city.

...As the last of its battery life slowly fades.
posted by Petrot at 9:12 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Why the fuck would you grab your Le Crueset pot? What a dick. Insurance will replace that.

I bailed after Dutch oven guy, but every single person in that photo essay appears to live in some kind of pretentious urban cabin, surrounded by deliciously clever vintage treasures.

Your fucking house has burned down! I hope you're very happy in your dingy motel room, all alone with your "Vintage Woolrich Horse skin hunting gloves." Those will surely be very useful in putting your life back together.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:23 AM on May 14, 2011 [7 favorites]

Assuming I've got a minute, I'd get what I need like my wallet, passport, phone and charger, and this ashtray.
I don't need this or this. Just this ashtray... And this paddle game. - The ashtray and the paddle game and that's all I need... And this remote control. - The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that's all I need... And these matches. - The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control, and the paddle ball... And this lamp. - The ashtray, this paddle game, and the remote control, and the lamp, and that's all *I* need. And that's *all* I need too. I don't need one other thing, not one... I need this.
posted by Zack_Replica at 9:31 AM on May 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

Well, yeah, sentient beings first! Photographs, yeah. Documents, since I'm organized enough to keep them in one place. And then: my Yamaha Upright Grand, my most prized possession! (OK, I can see some problems getting that out of a burning house...)

Cats can be problematic. I would hope they would run out the door, but if they fled to a corner of the basement, that would be a problem. Not having experienced a massive fire, who knows what they would do? I don't think dogs would be a problem, though.
posted by kozad at 9:42 AM on May 14, 2011

I assume the husband is taking care of himself in this situation. We would both go after the same thing - the cats. We have a waterproof fireproof safe with documents in it, so I wouldn't be too worried about that stuff.
posted by Catbunny at 9:45 AM on May 14, 2011

My house burned down like a week before my twelfth birthday, and as you would expect I just got. the fuck. out. Later on I wished I had grabbed something, anything, a spatula or a can opener, anything, that would have connected me to my old life without being covered in ash and burned around the edges.
posted by no mind at 9:49 AM on May 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

It was December, 1989. We were living in a third floor tenement apartment in "Clinton Hill," Brooklyn. The temperature in the apartment went from fifty or below (when our deadbeat landlord neglected to pay the heating oil bill) to pushing ninety when it was 20 degrees outside (windows open, radiators unstoppable). On the evening in question, it was hot enough that I was wearing a thin cotton skirt, no tights or socks, and my three-year-old daughter and friend were dressed most appropriately in princess dress and clown costume, awaiting dinner while my six-week-old baby slept in a t-shirt and diaper. Something smelled wrong. Was the pot of frozen peas boiling off? From the hallway I saw the smoke, thick and black, coming under the front door. I grabbed the baby, swaddled in a down comforter, my neighbor from across the hall met us on the fire escape, carried the baby and helped me guide the two girls carefully down the two flights, me following behind. It never occurred to me to grab anything.

My husband, who was then working two jobs some days, was still at the first one. There were no cell phones or beepers for most people for that matter. I knew he would be home soon as I stood on the sidewalk with all my neighbors looking up at the five-story building, watching the firefighters go in and up. I was not cold, standing barefoot in the snow. The girls were huddled next to me in amazement and, no doubt, shock, but never complained of cold. I looked up at our window where the Christmas tree was still twinkling. Nothing seemed to be on fire in our apartment, but I couldn't tell where it had started. That year my husband had been making a dollhouse for our daughter. It was almost finished and sitting in the vacant apartment directly across the hall from ours. I remember hoping it would not be damaged.

He drove as far as he could down the street, running the rest of the way. All he asked me was "Where are the kids?" Stupidly I said "Walker's in a blanket." (My neighbor's husband was still holding him, standing by me and the girls.) "What?" he cried. "Right here," I said. "Right here," and I took the baby from the other man's arms and handed him to my husband as our daughter turned and wrapped her arms around his legs, me still comforting her playmate.

He never asked me if I had "grabbed anything." It never occurred to me and I didn't think about it as I watched the fire put out, hoping only to be allowed back in. As it was, our apartment, and the dollhouse were spared. The building stank of soot and wet burned things for months. If I remember, my husband and some neighbors wound up cleaning up the stairwell when it became clear we might wait forever for the landlord to deal with it.

We moved to California just in time to witness the Oakland Hills fire (flames visible from seventeen miles away in Point Richmond where we were then) and its aftermath.

I am a relatively sentimental and nostalgic person by nature, and I would be most sad to lose our photo albums and our children's art. If we ever get around to getting a fireproof box that's about all that's going in it.
posted by emhutchinson at 10:04 AM on May 14, 2011 [12 favorites]

Why all the yammering? Like anyone is actually under the misapprehension that the site is actually about what you'd really save in a fire. It's just a "Out of all your crap, what crap is really important to you" question. Can't believe some of you are serioulsy discussing the practicalities and logistics of saving pet cats.
posted by R.Stornoway at 10:04 AM on May 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

They say, whoever they are, that moving five times is equivalent to one house fire in the amount of stuff you shed. If that's even generally true, then i've already lived through about four fires, and when I think back brought all the stuff I no longer have that I wish I did, it seems pretty accurate in my case. I have a few small artifacts from my childhood, and other than that, I have a leather guitar strap that I bought in 1977.

That said, I do think about this, as I have irreplaceable stuff these days. But I bet I wouldn't actually get any stuff out because i'd be flailing at the fire with a garden hose. Once dog and humans were known to be safely dispatched, I might try to grab for an external backup drive, some folders of slides and a couple basses. Fires suck though, and people behave unpredictably under the kind of stress an event like a house fire creates, so really, who knows?
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:04 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, not all cats will make it out without help. Our cat was doing what I think many cats would do in a really scary situation. She hid behind the stove and we didn't find her body until days later.

I'm not so sure that I mind this impulse to show everyone the things that are most important to you. Is that really so bad? Yes this is a blog about people's stuff, but stuff is such a big part of our lives and shouldn't we be paying attention to it, at least sometimes, to what we value and how we relate to it? This is a piece about how people see themselves and maybe I'm not jaded enough to just see that as petty narcissism.
posted by no mind at 10:06 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

George Orwell Diary 11.5.41
Heavy air-raid last night. A bomb slightly damaged this building, the first time this has happened to any house I have been in. About 2 a.m., in the middle of the usual gunfire and distant bombs, a devastating crash...

At such times one takes what one feels to be important, and I noticed afterwards that what I had taken was not my typewriter or any documents but my firearms and a haversack containing food, etc., which was always kept ready.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 10:21 AM on May 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

Yeah, the fire alarm we had in our apartment last week proved that it wouldn't be me saving my SO, it'd probably be the other way around.


Me: "Ugh..."
SO: "Wake up! It's a fire alarm!"
Me: "Ugh.. it's probably just somebody burning food again down in the common room", as I slowly slide out of bed and into jeans and a shirt.
SO: "We need to go!"
Me: Looks at the coffee. Save it? No. Should probably head downstairs now.

That is one of the joys of living in an apartment building, you get to practice "what would you bring with you?" several times a year.

Technically we both have important document boxes set aside for earthquake preparedness, but it turns out in the heat of the moment we grab: the ferret when we had her, followed by wallet, phone, and laptops.
posted by formless at 10:26 AM on May 14, 2011

The current laptop. Wacom tablet.
Purse, phone.
Whatever clothes I had on.

Everything else is ephemeral. With those things, I can prove I'm who I say I am well enough to access my finances and replace what's necessary. Does that make me one of the pretentious hipsters? I dunno. I live alone with no pets. I've got enough money to get by, I've got friends to lean on.

I should start backing my data up to the cloud so that even the laptop isn't painful to leave behind.

* * * * *

Six years ago, I lost 90% of my stuff in Katrina. But I'd pulled the hard drive from my computer, and that had a hell of a lot of "my stuff". It didn't take long to replace what physical things I needed and what actually mattered to me; I may have lost the physical evidence of the decade of filled sketchbooks, but I still had the source files of finished art and a lot of scans from those pages. I lost the CDs I hadn't ripped yet but I'd gotten down to maybe ten discs I hadn't that weren't exactly in heavy rotation.

I only use laptops nowadays. I learnt my lesson.

I also made it past the point where Moore's Law made that much computational power something I could afford in a portable form.

As data gets more and more compact we become like the witches in fairy tales: We can take part of our souls out and put them in another object. When you have enough CPU and storage to make so much of what you do and love fit into a locket, and simultaneously hide it away in the dark, cool cave of a server farm, everything else starts to seem a little meaningless: I like the pretty silver form of my Macbook Air but it's just the current physical incarnation of my stuff. It keeps getting smaller.

But I'll probably keep accumulating new piles of physical possessions after each future tragedy.
posted by egypturnash at 10:34 AM on May 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

This thread inspired me to move my rag doll I got for Christmas when I was 4 from the dark recesses of my closet to right next to my bed.
posted by Lucinda at 10:41 AM on May 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

I have too much stuff anyway. Let it burn.

Okay, seriously, I'd make sure I got my wallet. That's where the money is. And probably my computer and phone, because if my house is on fire I'll probably have to stay somewhere else and it would be nice to have the devices that keeps me connected to the outside world. (And I could use these things to buy plane tickets. I'm not ashamed to admit that if my house burned down I'd be flying cross-country to my parents' house. Although maybe I'd try crashing with mefites first.)

I'd save my cats, if I had cats. But I rent and my landlord doesn't allow cats.
posted by madcaptenor at 10:49 AM on May 14, 2011

what I'd save in a fire is #1 offspring

I hope your second child doesn't see this.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:49 AM on May 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'd save only one thing: my magic genie lamp.

Later, I'd just wish for all my crap back.
posted by found missing at 11:08 AM on May 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

As madcaptenor says, after the living things (except my pet millipede— sorry, invertebrates don't make the cut) I'd be thinking about my wallet, phone, that kind of thing, that let me contact my friends or relatives, and give me access to my nonphysical possessions like my bank account and offsite backups. I'm pretty sentimental, but I like my skin.

There's a similar hypothetical that I think about sometimes, the "you have one hour to pack before fleeing from the Nazis / the hurricane / flood / etc" scenario. There are definitely some mementos and merely-expensive-to-replace things I'd try to take in that situation, that I wouldn't bother with if fleeing from a burning building.
posted by hattifattener at 11:25 AM on May 14, 2011

I was awoken by calls of 'Fire!' at 3 AM after a Fat Tuesday night of drinking in Detroit. I was not actually sure if there was a fire, because I lived in a large building with a lot of young people who had also been drinking. You know, mischief, and all that. By the time I realized there actually was a fire, I was drunkenly trying to wake up my gentleman caller, who was asleep in my bed, and wrangle my cats into the one cat carrier I could find. After a couple minutes of this, the fire fighters finally banged loudly on my door, and I proceeded to get into an argument with them about how serious the fire actually was, how I had to find my cats, and so on.

It was during this argument that my room began to fill with smoke. We took the cats and my laptop, and were hurried downstairs by the fire fighters. It was mid-February in Detroit. I was wearing yoga pants, a t-shirt, and some cloth slippers, holding my laptop and my cat carrier. Despite my lack of glasses, I could see that the fire was billowing through the roof and windows on the 4th floor, and appeared to be at its peak directly above my apartment. While I watched my apartment burn, I was freezing, my feet were soaked, and worse, my drunkenness had pretty much worn off.

When this particular hypothetical is asked, my answers are not terribly interesting anymore. I think in the past I may have said things like my first edition of The Sombrero Fall-out or the quilt my grandmother made. As a result of that February fire, I have since learned that the real answer is: glasses, wallet, car keys, cats. If it's winter, add to that a coat, and some real shoes.
posted by palindromic at 11:30 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Throw 1) Cats out of windows (they will hide when frightened, and will suffocate)
grab 2) Laptop and place in 3) Purse. Run.

Laptop contains all my work (articles, current projects, student work, lecture notes), purse contains ID, passport, keys, etc.

As much as I love my paintings, my books, my wonderful furniture (teak! mid-century modern! painfully assembled over years of thrifting) and my clothes (on which I spend far too much money) they are not essential.
posted by jrochest at 11:38 AM on May 14, 2011

I haven't seen any underwear yet.
posted by zzazazz at 11:38 AM on May 14, 2011

Assuming I'm already wearing one pair, underwear is cheap and easily replaced.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:42 AM on May 14, 2011

I haven't seen any underwear yet.

This says a great deal about mefites.
posted by jrochest at 11:43 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Too many of you are being too harsh on people who'd save electronics. Assuming my kitties are safe, I would reach immediately for my Kindle or my laptop. No doubt about it: that's what I'd take.

First, wherever I am in my apartment, either of those is right near by. My laptop is my way of accessing anything that matters (bank records, bills, etc etc). They are both easy to carry. They're both more expensive than 99% of the takable-in-a-fire stuff that I own. After the fire, no matter what, every single penny would be spent on getting the essentials back -- I wouldn't have the money to purchase new ones. But, most importantly, they are the two items that will let me recreate my lifestyle no matter where I am. So long as I have occasional access to a power outlet, I can do most of the stuff I'd regularly do anyway. It's not the electronic device itself that matters, but what you'll be able to do with it after everything else you own has been destroyed.

But, again, this is all assuming my cats made it out okay. Realistically, the best I could hope for are two blankets filled with angry, terrified kitties.
posted by meese at 11:44 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Holy Trinity: wallet, keys, phone
Backup drives, if time.

I did have to do this exercise in the 90's in a business setting. The elevator repair company underneath the design firm I worked for caught fire. I grabbed my bag containing my laptop and shuttled the SVP for Marketing of BankOne down the stairs. She was reviewing galleys of their annual report moments before. Then I ran back upstairs through the office and down the back stairs to tell the elevator guys the building was on fire. They knew.

Back up the stairs, office is full of smoke. I unplugged the file server and RAID and exited. I'm not sure how intelligent going back in was, as I was trying to get out the front windows broke out and the water from the fire hoses started pouring in.
posted by MarvinTheCat at 11:48 AM on May 14, 2011

The string "cats" appears in this thread 26 times; "dogs" six times.

I went with plurals because "cat" appears in "catch" and "catastrophe" and I'm too lazy to filter those out. It's Caturday, what do you want from me?

Is this because mefites are more likely to have cats than dogs? (That seems possible - mefi skews young and urban.) Or because dogs would be able to get themselves out of the fire?
posted by madcaptenor at 11:51 AM on May 14, 2011

My long ago cat had the tendency to turn on the burner when jumping up onto the range top. Quite a feat of feet, since it was a pilotless ignition burner. My point is, the cat might have started the fire--something the dog is unlikely to have done. Save the dog.
posted by found missing at 12:01 PM on May 14, 2011

1. Dogs. Would really just have to tie Lou to Daisy and send her out. She's good that way.
2. HD of my archived studio work, writing, and mp3s. As a former microfilm/digital archivist, I'm sufficiently nervous about data loss that I've hidden flash drives containing all of my manuscripts to date in the houses of friends around the country, backed things up in a variety of media with longish lifespans (there's no digital media good for the long run, alas), and stashed those additional backups around, too.
3. Possibly my hardback copy of Life, The Universe, And Everything filled with handwritten notes written in the margins by Douglas Adams and credit card slips from his East Coast speaking tour around the time that book was released.
4. I have a certain box, marked with big red X marks, that I will throw into the fire.
5. My live music rig, just the main box, maybe, or I might just use the fire as an excuse to really knuckle under with PD and go platformless.

I may also pretend to stop breathing in the hopes of being "resuscitated" by a fireman.

The other nice thing about being sort of a vaguely paranoid guy about losing stuff is that I've got little caches of cash (so to speak), extra keys, and other sundries tucked into odd landmarks between Maryland and Georgia, with a little stash in Los Angeles.
posted by sonascope at 12:12 PM on May 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

I was asked this question recently but the terms were that all people and pets were already safe and which three things would you save?

My answer was my purse (for its contents), my passport, and my birth certificate, because it can be very difficult to get replacements for the documents that establish your identity if you don't have the other required documents that establish your identity!

Facebook is my photo album/scrapbook for memories. Everything else is just replaceable stuff.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:16 PM on May 14, 2011

I'd start with a fire extinguisher.
posted by braksandwich at 12:32 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Commonplace books. I have been compiling them for thirty years now, and they are as irreplaceable as any physical item gets in my life.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:42 PM on May 14, 2011

This website reminds me of a high school classmate who answered the question "what one thing that you currently own would you bring with you to a deserted island?" with "my hairdryer".
posted by DrGirlfriend at 12:45 PM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh dear, this thread has made the front page of Fark.
posted by workerant at 1:06 PM on May 14, 2011

You are Jean Cocteau and I claim my five pounds.
posted by Abiezer at 1:09 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

We had a fire alarm in my building last Thursday morning. I took my laptop, my backup drive and my purse; because I knew it was probably a false alarm (it was) I left behind the cats, my passport and my family photographs, all of which I'd certainly save if it was a genuine emergency. This perhaps makes me boring; but this site is really more about "these are my favourite possessions" than "this is what I'd actually grab if the house was on fire".
posted by jokeefe at 1:18 PM on May 14, 2011

This is why I don't have kids or pets, so I can save my extensive collection of Commodore hardware.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:22 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't own anything irreplaceable, so it is just a matter of post-fire hassle avoidance:

1. Identity documents such as birth certificates, passports
2. Folder with a summary of all financial accounts

Really that is it since I back my computer up to the cloud. If we're talking replacement insurance, you'd be silly taking any risk to save electronics over two years old. If there is time though:

3. A few mementos for the kids (after reading no mind's comment)
4. Timecapsule and other external harddrives
posted by stp123 at 1:35 PM on May 14, 2011

I want to meet the guy who would save a paddle, a knife and a book on wilderness camping, I bet that guy is hoping his house burns down.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:43 PM on May 14, 2011

Too many of you are being too harsh on people who'd save electronics.

I think it's a divide between those who use the devices as consumers or as creators. If someone uses their gadgets for consumption of media (movies, games, email, etc), then the devices are empty machines, easily replaced, with little bearing on life.
But using electronics to consume is clearly a very different situation from someone who uses them for the assembly and creation of years of notes, work, livelyhood, etc.

An astute anthropologist (I think it was) pointed out that we quite literally and considerably extend and enhance our mental capacity by use of notes, calculations, etc, and that it is fairly accurate to think of these aides as part of our minds, not just things.

I subscribe to that, so the fact that I am not in the hypothetical fire doesn't mean that a big part of my mind can't be destroyed by it. In a fire, saving minds comes first. First save the minds of others, after than, save the parts of my own mind that aren't kept inside my head.

(I may be wrong, but I think this concept was written into Gormenghast; when the Earl's library is burned, too much of his mind is lost and he goes insane).
posted by -harlequin- at 1:44 PM on May 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

If I've got pants on I've got wallet/keys/cell.
Boots are right here.
2 paintings.

I don't even *need* the lappy, it's all in the cloud now -- google is five bucks a year per 20gig, MS live has 25gig free, set up as many accounts as you need, I've got data both places and on portable drives, too. I don't need the laptop, it's habit, I'm almost positive I'd grab it, because I'm goofy sometimes.

Any more time, I'd grab more paintings. Probably a pistol. One very important book, too, but paintings first. (He said on a lazy Saturday afternoon, no smoke anywhere closeby..)
posted by dancestoblue at 1:53 PM on May 14, 2011

It’s critical to leave a view things of obvious importance to you to burn. Otherwise, those pesky arson investigators start asking too many questions.
posted by found missing at 1:57 PM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I haven't seen any underwear yet.

This says a great deal about mefites.

Go commando, grab more stuff running out.

However, here's an important question that keeps me up nights:

Sock, shoe, sock, shoe,
Sock, sock, shoe, shoe.

If you had to run for it half way through, you'd get caught with either one shoe and one bare foot, or socks but no shoes. I'm conflicted. What's best here?
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:19 PM on May 14, 2011

I'd save my son. There's absolutely no point in my leaving a burning building without him.

For slower moving disasters, I keep a bug-out bag under my side of the bed. It holds clothing for me*, shoes for me, SO & son, cash, short crowbar, workgloves, copies of useful papers (insurance, medical, identity), foil blankets, dust masks, first aid kit, flashlights, energy bars and a handcrank for recharging batteries. The stuff in the bag is intended to last us long enough to excavate the bigger emergency supplies cached out in the yard. For even slower moving disasters, I worked out a bunch of contingency rescue and aftercare plans for the various pets.

*One day it occurred to me that as much as having one's home crumple in an earthquake would suck, it would be much worse to witness it bare-ass-naked from curbside, having bolted out of bed without any clothing on.
posted by jamaro at 2:35 PM on May 14, 2011

I disagree. If it were a nice sunny day and I had the opportunity to see my house crumple in an earthquake, I would rather be naked. It sounds like an opportunity for satori.
posted by kozad at 2:39 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sock, shoe, sock, shoe,
Sock, sock, shoe, shoe.

posted by limeonaire at 2:42 PM on May 14, 2011

I would suggest shoe, shoe. Socks are optional anyway and the Red Cross should be able to give you a fresh pair of socks and other incidentals in the immediate aftermath.
posted by ChrisHartley at 2:51 PM on May 14, 2011

I would grab 6 feet of rope, mosquito netting, a small handheld mirror, a seat cushion off the sofa, 3 chocolate bars, 1 liter of tequila, a book entitled Incredible Edible Animals-City Edition, and a slanket.
posted by found missing at 3:45 PM on May 14, 2011 [7 favorites]

3 AM, fifteen years ago: pounding on my apartment door, and a fireman's face filled the peephole. I had time to grab a robe (I'd already grabbed my glasses to see who was at the door). But door-pounding firemen and an adrenaline rush made grabbing anything else literally unthinkable. GETOUTGETOUTGETOUTGETOUT. So the fellow tenants and I milled around outside on the sidewalk dazedly, not quite talking (it wasn't one of those kind of buildings) and it took me about thirty minutes to figure out I was barefoot. I looked around, and no one had grabbed anything other than kids.

Turned out it was a smoldering something or other, and we all went back in about 45 minutes later. But now I know the answer to the question.

Probably the same for earthquakes, and tornados. Life has changed, now there's a partner and a kid and a dog, so a robe might be incidental next time, but I know for sure GETOUTGETOUTGETOUTWITHYOURFAMILY will be all I can hear over my heart.

Hurricane evacuation, though? That's a more interesting question--you still have time and space constraints, but they are not as immediate as fire. I'd grab the family photos from the 19th century on, for the irreplace-ability, important papers for the ease in restarting, and then probably pack up the car just as if we were going camping (which we can do in about 45 minutes) with clothes, sleeping bags, cooking stove etc, adding some things like camera and laptop for me and books/toys for the squirt. If we're gonna be evacuated, we might as well have something to do once we get wherever we're going.
posted by e to the pi i at 4:01 PM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'd get my family out. And if they were out and I had about 30 seconds, I might try to snag my passport and my backup harddrive. Also a folder with Important Papers, like transcripts, birth certificate, etc. Those are all in the same room, would take about 5 seconds. My wallet, which is right by the door, I'd of course snag on the way out, assuming I could leave by the door.

That stuff would make a terrible hipster photo, though.
posted by zardoz at 4:39 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I almost wish I had the opportunity to make a choice when my apartment building had a fire during a workday morning.

Anyway, the cheaper kind of fire safes, the chest kind, are designed to melt shut in a fire. Meaning that, if they don't melt shut, there's a small chance that water can seep in around the edges from a fire hose. And a go bag is generally a good idea, if you get a chance to grab it.
posted by ZeusHumms at 5:26 PM on May 14, 2011

Wonderful post and interesting idea.
posted by nickyskye at 5:56 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would suggest shoe, shoe. Socks are optional anyway

I think I've got it figured out. You know how some women will have eyeliner tattooed on to save time putting on makeup? I'm going to have socks tattooed onto my feet. Think of the things I can save in a fire with all that extra time!
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:07 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

We used to drill this quite often courtesy of a younger demographic apartment building.

So, what happened every time:
Wallet/keys/phone (all on hall stand)

Everything else is meaningless, data backed up to the cloud.
posted by arcticseal at 7:10 PM on May 14, 2011

Cat owners:

In a fire, are you envisioning
-grab cat, run, or
-grab cat, grab carrier, stuff cat in carrier, run?
Or something else? Pillowcase?
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:32 PM on May 14, 2011

I have spent most of the afternoon figuring out how to move my digital life to the cloud. And training the cats to run out when the see fire. We had to stop, I ran out of matches.
posted by tomswift at 7:38 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

My dad is super safety conscious. Any counter-top electrical appliance with a heating element is unplugged, not just turned off, when not in use. He says he's not about to trust the safety of his family and home to a two-cent switch. Clothes dryer is never run without folks being awake and about. Fire extinguisher in the kitchen. Fire ladders in bedrooms. Smoke detectors and CO detectors in the right places. And a rule in his house is that you sleep with a pair of street shoes by your bed because, "You can safely run out of the house bare-arsed but not bare-foot."

The firemen I work with daily agree with him 100% on all the above.

Thanks for all the comments. I'm going to assemble a "go bag"before I go to bed tonight.
posted by angiep at 7:43 PM on May 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

The people who posted those pictures seem a lot more optimistic than the Everyday Carry folks.

I'd grab the family & cats, then hope I remember my passwords when I borrow a laptop later.
posted by dragonplayer at 8:01 PM on May 14, 2011

I went to the Office Max for bubble wrap this afternoon (It's complicated!) and ended up staring at the fireproof safes for half an hour.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:47 PM on May 14, 2011

I'd grab the baby and leave the door open hoping at least one cat would be smart enough to get the hell outside. Possibly also grab my camera, but the baby really takes two hands. YOU HEAR ME, CATS? I'M OUT OF HANDS.

We have a fireproof safe with passports and things in it, but why am I saving that? It's fireproof!
posted by sonika at 8:49 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is all assuming you don't have to crawl on your hands and knees to avoid the smoke, which would make it awfully hard to carry anything.

I would be grabbing my cell phone since it's always beside me and I would, you know, be using it to call 911.
posted by IndigoRain at 9:42 PM on May 14, 2011

I had an apartment fire years ago. Being the anal person I am, you'd think I would have grabbed a list of at least five important things, but after alerting my roommate, the only thing I had the presence of mind to grab was my coat, and I think that was only because I passed it in the hallway on the way down the back stairs. It didn't even occur to me to grab my wallet or my commuter bag, which would have been mighty useful in the homeless days that followed. When there's fire lapping at the kitchen windows, there really is nothing else to think about but getting yourself out. Your brain absolutely shifts into a different mode.
posted by amusebuche at 9:51 PM on May 14, 2011

I am materialistic. I would try to save, in this order:

1. My Oscar

2. The Codex Leicester

3. The Koh-i-Noor

Or at least that's what I'd tell the fire insurance company I was trying to save. I would have been unsuccessful, of course.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 10:55 PM on May 14, 2011

Cat owners: In a fire, are you envisioning
-grab cat, run, or
-grab cat, grab carrier, stuff cat in carrier, run?
Or something else? Pillowcase?

A few years ago we had a fire alarm go off in our apartment building. We stuck one cat in the only carrier we could find, and stuffed the other one in a pillowcase. We took them out and stashed the animals in the car (it was a chilly evening, no heat danger) along with a few things we grabbed on the way out. We left them in the car while we sat on the trunk and watched the action.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 11:05 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

In a fire, are you envisioning
-grab cat, run, or
-grab cat, grab carrier, stuff cat in carrier, run?
Or something else? Pillowcase?

After a fire in my apartment building I asked that exact question and had a kitty fire drill. Next time there's a fire (heaven forbid), all three cats are going into my super-duper-kitty-backpack I paid a small fortune for, and are getting the hell out with me. Failing that, i'll try a pillowcase. I actually keep some by the door now. I'll also grab a pair of shoes, wallet and keys my way out as well since they're there, but as long as I have the cats the rest can burn.
posted by cgg at 11:23 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would save my stupid dog, who hates to be picked up. I wouldn't even have time to get my vintage jackets or handmade cutlery, I'd chase around a cocker spaniel as my house was burning down.
posted by catwash at 11:37 PM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

"Fancy helmet (because I just bought it) and Bridgestone RB-3, not pictured"

I too would grab my bike, and not only because the panniers make a great place to throw everything else I would like to take. So I Googled this Bridgestone RB-3, and found what Sheldon Brown had to say about it:

Bridgestone "road" bikes, particularly the legendary RB-1, combine frame design taken from classic Italian road bikes of the '70's with excellent Japanese workmanship and functional, reliable parts. The RB-1 was extremely popular with racers, and held its own against competing models costing hundreds of dollars more.

The RB-2 had the same geometry as the RB-1, but with slightly less expensive tubing and considerably less expensive parts.

The RB-3 was a low-end model, of little interest.

posted by d. z. wang at 12:37 AM on May 15, 2011

Cat goes in the carrier. So many false alarms in our old place that it just stayed in a corner of the bedroom. Cat naps in there anyway so he knows the drill. Still bitches about it though.
posted by arcticseal at 1:25 AM on May 15, 2011

My cat is just grabbed. He'll be carried anywhere by me at this age, I can even wear him as a stole if it's chilly.
posted by dabitch at 1:31 AM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

The comments are long and I don't know if anyone is still reading, but if you are, listen to the voice of experience:


We had to escape from an apartment fire several years ago, with 2 adults to round up 2 kids and 2 pets in the process. I had our dog leash in one hand and was holding my 8-yo son's hand with the other, but when we stepped out into the dark stairwell completely filled with smoke and unable to see, my son panicked and I had to carry him down, letting go of the dog leash in the process. She couldn't find her way out and instead sought safety in the basement level. The firefighters found her about 20 minutes after we got out, and she was still alive, but barely. She had suffered severe brain damage due to lack of oxygen and we had to have her put to sleep a couple days later.

What else did we take with us? Not a damn thing.
posted by SomeTrickPony at 9:55 AM on May 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm sentimental, and both my parents are gone. It would be so sad to lose the few things I have that came from my parents or grandparents, from the home I grew up in, or the relics of my son's babyhood. I lost a lot of books in a flood, and that was bad enough; I often discover that I book I owned is gone, with a pang. Yeah, it's stuff, but it's also my history.

Now I'm middle-aged and have good insurance. When I was younger, most of what I owned represented a fair amount of effort, scavenging Goodwill or the curb for stuff and rehabbing it into something a little better. It's stuff, but it's stuff that represents more than shopping.

Ever read Woman on the Edge of Time?
The "watch" (which Luciente says is actually called a "kenner") is a portable computer, similar to today's Blackberry or cell phone, offering access to information and communication. It's very similar to a smartphone, with large quantities of personal data, which, if lost, is devastating. That's why people would grab laptops; they are a form of very personal history. I hated it when somebody grabbed my old phone with megabytes of pictures and music. A smartphone with gigabytes of calendar, music, notes, texts, music, etc., would be worse.

Still, if the house is on fire, I'm grabbing the dog.
posted by theora55 at 11:04 AM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

My landlord, who lives in the first floor of our old two-story house, has given me explicit instructions, after having had a fire in the basement and putting it out immediately before the fire dept. even got there, to let any fire in the house burn for a while, for insurance purposes. Therefore if it weren't an immanent death kind of situation, I would take my time saving some stuff.

I figure should a fire start and I were home, I'd probably be in my bedroom. So first: open window and throw cat out. Come one - saving the cat is the easiest part. You don't need to carry your cat out the front freaking door! Unless you live in the dead cat falling zone, just toss him (or her).

Then grab back-up hard-drives. The hard-drive is easily replaced, the photos, music, videos, documents...I mean, my life is on that thing.

Then my wallet. IDs are such a bitch to replace. And what if I get hungry after the fire? Or need a drink?

Then Boey, my Keilwerth SX-90R alto saxophone. That's my 'I get one sentimental item,' and I could pawn it for a decent sum if it came to that. That's called strategic sentimentalism.

Then I would take my phone and maybe my work employee handbook and some other bad-memory-associated or do-want-to-destroy ephemera and toss that shit into the motherfucking fire. Come one, that is WAY more satisfying than saving your favorite dress or a busted Timex.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:22 PM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

*come one = come on. #christ
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:23 PM on May 15, 2011

I guess I would save my important papers if they weren't inside a locked trunk underneath a bunch of sewing machines. I would have to sit for a while and think long and hard about what to save. After all, at a minimum, I'm going to be homeless for a little while and probably depressed. So the booze and a couple of good books, except I'd end up all "Oh god I read this one just recently, this is the worst thing to happen to anybody ever!" Cats? Cats are never home anyway. They are both massive nightwalking sluts. Perhaps I would save the smoke alarm so I could go on the news with it and talk about what a fat lot of good it was. Or the fire extinguisher so that such a terrible tragedy could never happen again!
posted by tumid dahlia at 9:14 PM on May 15, 2011

I'd save the manuscript for my screenplay, but I haven't seen that thing around in like five years.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:23 AM on May 16, 2011

These are really just hurricane lists. In a fire, you barely have time to get yourself and your loved ones out. Still, this was a very educational post for me. I live in New Orleans right by the river levee, and we were just talking last night about needing to put together a bug-out-bag to put by the door. We would hopefully have a bit of notice if the corps thought the levee might break, otherwise we would not be able to get out of the city and would probably have to camp in the attic for a few days.
posted by domo at 7:52 AM on May 16, 2011

Pet cats, pet snakes. (I'm assuming my husband would get out on his own.) And it wouldn't actually matter if I didn't have time to save them. I don't think I would be capable of leaving the apartment without them. Unless I had almost everyone with me (snakes in a pillowcase, not sure how many of the cats I could get into carriers) and those I had already grabbed would die if I didn't run RIGHT THEN and there was one pet I just couldn't save, I don't think I would be capable of ditching and letting creatures I love die.

Anyone who wants to tell me "they're just animals that is stupid" can feel absolutely free, and is going to be absolutely ignored.
posted by Because at 4:09 PM on May 16, 2011

egypturnash: "Six years ago, I lost 90% of my stuff in Katrina. But I'd pulled the hard drive from my computer, and that had a hell of a lot of "my stuff". It didn't take long to replace what physical things I needed and what actually mattered to me; I may have lost the physical evidence of the decade of filled sketchbooks, but I still had the source files of finished art and a lot of scans from those pages. I lost the CDs I hadn't ripped yet but I'd gotten down to maybe ten discs I hadn't that weren't exactly in heavy rotation.

I only use laptops nowadays. I learnt my lesson.

A massive solar flare is about to strike Earth, permanently erasing all electronic records. You have five minutes to print whatever's valuable off your computers to hard copy. What do you save?
posted by Rhaomi at 5:08 PM on May 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

"Can't believe some of you are serioulsy discussing the practicalities and logistics of saving pet cats."

See there's this problem with being a cat owner - it's called the cat. With dogs there's a much higher likelihood that they'll come when you call them (note I didn't say 100%, I've known some dim but sweet erratic dogs too) - with cats you can never tell. Cat might come when called, or might have found a really epic nap spot and refuses to move. You might have a heroic cat who'd smell the smoke and alert the family, or you may have one that would just notice the extra heat (and approves of it) and turn over and nap more. Or would freak out and find an impossible to find hiding place. So yes, being a cat owner means you should spent at least a few moments contemplating "how would I save my cat in situation x." (Pro tip: having a special auditory announcement of a particular kind of food the cat loves helps in cat location.)

Yes, I have evacuated/sheltered with my cat in the following situations: more than one tornado, hurricane, wildfire, earthquake. REALLY hoping I won't ever add to that list.
posted by batgrlHG at 7:35 PM on May 16, 2011

In stark contrast to the site, here is what my wife elected to save when a massive earthquake struck near her house:

1. A can of beans (no can opener.)

2. One shoe.

She realized this belatedly when she found herself running halfway down the street.
posted by felix at 8:04 AM on May 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

That's it.

Everything else has either been digitized and backed-up off-site and/or I would miss but not worth risking myself or the other items on the list to rescue.
posted by Theta States at 12:27 PM on May 17, 2011

I have backup cats off-site and I am planning to digitize my husband.
posted by desjardins at 2:07 PM on May 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

Other than my kid and my husband, I'm pretty sure I'd grab my pocketbook, which has my wallet and keys, and a small file box that purposely has most of our important documents (birth certs, SS cards, passports, mortgage/insurance info, etc). I'm kind of a minimalist as it is, but after looking through all these pretentious piles of weird stuff on the linked site and reading the far more realistic responses here, I truly can't think of much of anything else I feel like I would desperately miss or that couldn't be replaced. Sentimental stuff exists that I'd love to save, sure, but can't say I'd spend time in a burning building trying to remove it.

My personal favorite is the girl who (as discussed far above) not only goes for her cast iron skillet (??) but her L'Oreal mascara.**

**CVS: $7.99
posted by takoukla at 4:08 AM on May 18, 2011

« Older skiffy   |   Bob Marley Week Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments