This is one of several stories that support Fire Prevention Week 2012. The 2012 theme is "Have 2 Ways Out" and each story is titled "Ever Had that Moment?" in order to get you thinking about escape routes in your own situation. To learn more about Fire Prevention Week, visit the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) website.

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Ever Had That Moment?: Paranoia or Safety Consciousness?

by Roberta M. Gorman, Structural Fire Program Assistant

Shortly after 9/11, I was sitting in a fast food restaurant with my two children, enjoying lunch in the “big city.” We trekked 75 miles to town for a grocery shopping and errand day, just as we did every three weeks or so, and were enjoying a rare lunch out. While eating, a scruffy man came in wearing a drab green coat. He dropped a large, overstuffed backpack on a nearby table and quickly disappeared. My heart started racing and my mind ran through the implications of that bag. Was it a harmless bag placed there by a homeless man who just went to use the bathroom? Or was it a bag with a bomb meant to destroy the restaurant and all its occupants? The heightened sense of national security after 9/11 raised suspicions with many situations that would have seemed harmless just months before.

An old drab green rucksack.

In a different situation a backpack would have seemed harmless. Image courtesy of

As I was staring at the backpack, my heart still racing, I surveyed the restaurant for any other signs of trouble. I felt this great need to get myself and my children to safety. I quickly scrambled to get all our belongings together and hustled my kids out of the restaurant. I’m sure they thought I was acting very strangely, but I didn’t feel safe and I needed to get to a place that I knew was safe. We exited the restaurant, hopped in the car, and got as far away as possible. My anxiety immediately disappeared and I was grateful that I was aware of my surroundings.

Looking back, I’m embarrassed that I left without telling someone about my discovery. Fleeing was a gut reaction. Today, if faced with the same situation, I’d notify the proper authorities and others in the area of the suspicious bag. Luckily, nothing happened that day at the restaurant, but the outcome could have been very different.