Weeks went into planning this morning’s customer meeting in Madrid. We had people fly in from North America. I flew in from Paris along with several other colleagues from various locations across Europe. Timing of the meeting was built around the availability of this customer’s CIO. We had 11 people from our business and the customer showed up with 12. It was a big meeting meant to solidify the foundation to sign a large deal in Q1. Being in Spain, many customers don’t speak English so a decision was made to unfold the meeting in Spanish with small interludes of translation for the non-Spanish speakers.
About an hour into the meeting during a deep conversation in Spanish I noticed the lights started flickering and the ventilation system turned on and off. A few moments later the fire alarm started ringing followed by an announcement on the communication system. The CIO said: “Ah, this is an unplanned test. We all need to go outside and then we will be back in 20 minutes. So we take a break now.”
Assuming this was a test fire drill I decided to use the toilet before leaving the building. I snuck into the toilets and as I stepped out there was a guy wearing an orange vest yelling at me “VAMANOS!” He was angry I was still in the building. I went straight to the stairs and started walking down. Immediately I smelled smoke. As I got to the lower levels I saw more and more smoke and the smell got stronger and stronger.
The stairwell led straight to an exit, but the exit was right beside the building’s electric transformer room… where all the smoke was. Being almost the last guy out I quickly stepped outside and away from the building. But as I stepped out the transformer started exploding. I quickly paced to where everyone was congregating. But we were too close to the building and the fire and the tiny explosions had become unpredictable. We all started running away to a safer location.
The tiny explosions continued for about 20 minutes. The fire fighters took a long time to arrive and when they did arrive they simply stood and casually watched the fire continue growing while the electric transformer continued sparking, creating flames, and bursting with tiny explosions. There must have been over 100 tiny explosions. They had to wait for the electricity to the building to be turned off before they could tackle the flames. I was surprised how casual and how close the firefighters stood to the fire while the explosions continued. Fortunately not a single person was hurt and the danger was quickly contained.
Given the importance of the meeting we found as many people from the meeting in the crowd, gathered us all into a group, and found the closest café to continue the meeting.
Even with the explosions the customer meeting was a success! We’ll never forget this important and remarkable event. In the chaos of the fire we bonded over the shared experience and forged a solid relationship.