The silent bustle of Westridge Heights, a new upscale residential-commercial park, was broken by the wail of sirens at 10 o’clock last night. March being Fire Protection Month, the business park held an unscheduled, unannounced fire drill, making call-center agents and condominium tenants alike go down their respective buildings’ fire exits, then assembling at the Central Plaza.
Outside, a crowd had gathered around a fire truck, while Quezon City Fire Department personnel showcased their rappelling skills on the 30-storey CyberCenter building. Smoke from a machine drifted through the air as firemen staged a daring rescue using a mannequin borrowed from the Zaara boutique inside the building.
At the outskirts of Westridge Place, though, another rescue, this time belated, was going on. Thirty-year-old businessman Ellington Chua noticed a curiously-marked Kia Besta van going up the Olympus Place condominium building. He had previously noticed the same van attempting to enter Westridge Heights via the front entrance while he was having dinner at Il Duce, a restaurant located just beside the entrance. “I saw this van trying to enter Westridge, but I saw the guards waving it away. That van had something like a big “Q” with laurel leaves at the side. When I saw it again, I was walking back to my unit at Olympus. This time, though, it had a huge tarp with “Medical Mission” printed on it.” He was not aware of any other entrance to Westridge.
Milo Parungao, a worker at the Elysium Residences, noticed the van go through the back entrance beside the chapel. “The van had ‘AMBULANCE’ written in front, but I didn’t hear any sirens or see any lights.” Traffic was stalled at Oxford Drive, where the fire drill was being held. With Westridge security guards guiding the now-negligible traffic, the ambulance cut through Dartmouth Avenue, went up the Olympus Place on-ramp, and went down thirty minutes later.
Chua was making his way back to Olympus Place when a Westridge guard stopped him and directed him to go back to the Central Plaza: “The guard was telling me, ‘go back, go back’, since the fire drill was mandatory. I’m an engineer. I thought they only held fire drills on individual buildings?” It was around this time that he spotted the van in question dashing towards his condominium.
In the meantime, the crowds that were gathered at the Central Plaza were getting restless. The ChicoSci concert that was scheduled to start at 9:45 PM did not push through as planned, meals were left unfinished in the mad dash to the fire-drill rally point, and not a few call-center agents were getting irate.
“I was this close to making my first sale,” a visibly-pissed off sales representative from GatewayServices, Inc. was heard ranting to his colleagues. “The guy was about to say ‘yes’ to a DSL upgrade when this stupid fire alarm suddenly sounded.”
“Plus we’re stuck here with all these jejemons,” he added, pointing to a crowd of adolescents in black that was waiting for the ChicoSci concert to commence. He then popped his collar and took a drag from his Marlboro Blue.
At 10:33 PM, the van made its way down the Olympus Place ramp and merged with the Dartmouth Avenue traffic that was moving freely now that the fire drill had ended and the Central Plaza crowd was dissipated. Ellington Chua suddenly remembered that he had left his takeout cannoli at Il Duce and got back just before the restaurant closed. Milo Parungao bumped his head on a steel bar and was taken to the field clinic, where he was pronounced stable and fit to return to work. GatewayServices, Inc. resumed operations and the sales rep in question was finally able to get his first sale, this time on a new subscriber. He later attributed it to his smashing good looks, Missouri accent, and powers of persuasion. The band ChicoSci took the stage to shrieks of applause. Westridge Heights security personnel apprehended a couple of youths who were caught sniffing rugby from a bottle; the concert itself, though, was generally orderly, and lasted until the wee hours of the morning.
The body, identified as that of a certain Stephen del Monte, was brought to the nearby Funeraria Quirino, where his remains are yet to be claimed. Police suspect no foul play in his death, which appears to be caused by carbon monoxide poisoning.