AC System Smoking and Customers Keep on Shopping

I work in a store. It is a big retail store where hundreds of customers come in on the slowest day. I watch people milling about picking out the products they want to buy. They are on a mission and in their own little worlds. I remember smelling smoke one day and then a manager came up quickly. They carry two-way radios and got a report of a fire on the roof. They told us to round up customers in our departments and have them evacuate. Later, a company that does HVAC repair in NYC discovered it was a compressor failure on one of the big air conditioners on the roof that was the source of the smoke. It had not actually burst into flames.

Still, the smoke that was coming in through the vents smelled like the building was on fire. People were asking if other people smelled smoke. I even asked the same thing of a coworker before realizing that I needed to report what I noticed. When I was told to tell people to evacuate, they largely ignored me and continued to shop. I told one lady to leave her cart and it would be there when she got back, but that she needed to leave the store immediately. She took a moment to examine an article of clothing she was looking at more closely before setting it down in a huff and walking off.

I was amazed. On our roof there are about 30 of the big AC systems. Only one was smoking and making the whole store stink. You can see the roof of our store when you come in on the highway toward the parking area. You can see all the fans rotating on the big gray AC units in the summer. They pump thousands of cubic feet of cool air to keep customers happy in the summer, but a failure can pump in noxious smoke. Still, no one really cares. No one sees the potential for a real emergency happening. It is weird the mentality people have out in public.

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