During our staff meeting, nurse practitioner Karen reviewed a twelve week plan to prepare our homes for weather emergencies and natural disasters. The two-paged brochure advised stockpiling canned goods and communicating a clear plan to family about what to do and where to go in the event of crisis. The brochure also suggested a simple home fire drill.
I thought back to the last time my family had attempted a fire drill.
It was 2007 and Jake was an oh-so-cute 8 year-old Cub Scout. His Wolf Pack was learning about household safety and he had carefully drawn an accurate map of our house and had mapped out several evacuation routes.
Incidentally. around that same time, rumors were swirling through our suburban streets and the bus stop moms were astir with alleged sightings of a misplaced brown fox. People had seen that fox in the recesses of their backyards, or from the corners of their eyes as they drove down tree-lined streets. In my tiny neighborhood, many people had thought they had seen the renegade fox, but no one was quite sure.
Of course, since then, wildlife has, in fact, encroached on our West Deptford suburbia. As natural habitats have been destroyed, we now have wild turkeys in the woods near the highway, and turkey vultures sometimes sun themselves on our roofs. We have owls and bald eagles and have seen an explosion in the deer population. To avoid hitting a deer while driving, both automobile and golf cart operators need to be mindful, since deer are regularly seen along our streets and all around our golf course.
But twelve years ago, aside from squirrels, chipmunks, and an occasional raccoon, we never saw wildlife near our homes. So the kids, having heard talk in school, asked us if they should be worried. We assured them that we live in a non-wooded area, and we told them, and believed, that a wild fox would have no reason to stroll around our lawns and that surely, all this scuttlebutt would turn out to be gossip and nothing more.
So on the night of the fire drill, Joe and I were ready. At the designated time, I would yell out that we had a kitchen fire. Joe would run into the kitchen to feign assistance and would immediately call for evacuation.
“Fire,” I yelled.
“Evacuate now,” Joe yelled. “Head to the meeting place.”
I smiled as I heard the front door slam closed, knowing that our boys and Joe would be running toward the corner gathering place. When I hustled out the back door, though, which was my nearest exit, it was surprisingly dark. I silently cursed myself for not turning on the outdoor lights before evacuating.
Stepping into the dark space, I encountered a pair of eyes. At first, my confused brain thought that young Jake might be in the backyard with me somehow.
“Jake?” I called out softly. “Hello?” No answer.
My heart rate increased as I realized the eyes were not those of a small child, but of an animal. Was a neighbor’s dog in my yard?
The small glowing eyes seemed to move closer to me just as my own eyes adjusted to the darkness and I began to make out a shape. Son of a gun, the rumors were real!
“Ahhhh,” I yelled, and took off. I reached the gate to my backyard fence, and tried clumsily to work the latch. Of course, it was stuck.
Joooeee,” I yelled at the top of my lungs, watching Joe and the boys still jogging toward the corner. I continued to fumble with the latch.
“Wait!” I hollered. “Wait for meeeeeee!” They kept going.
I got the latch open and started running.
It was the longest half block I have ever traversed. In my mind, I fully expected that the fox was right behind me, ready to bite at my heels.
When I finally caught up with my family, bending over to catch my breath, I excitedly told them about the fox.
“How would a fox have gotten into our fenced-in yard?” Joe asked with skepticism. “It probably was something else, like an opossum, or a big squirrel.”
And just like that, my own sighting was discredited with the rest.
Over the next week, accounts of the fox started to wane. To this day, I don’t know if the fox’s presence was ever verified, but I know what I think I just might have maybe seen.
Reading Karen’s disaster preparedness brochure today, I made a goal to prepare my household. I did a quick inventory of the non-perishables in our cabinets and made a plan to purchase bottled water this week. But what about a family fire drill?
Last year, our town was abuzz again, but this time, with rumors of a roaming coyote, posing a threat to vegetable gardens and all unattended kitties, Chihuahuas, and Teacup Yorkies. As the sightings increased, one resident even created a Facebook page for the “WD Coyote”.
Given that urban sprawl continues to displace wildlife, I guess I should do some research on encounters with foxes, coyotes, and just in case, bears!
And moving forward, all of our family fire drills will take place ONLY during the bright light of day!!
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