We’re mid flight when a passenger reports some smoke coming from the vents in the aircraft, almost immediately after that several more passengers from all over the plane report the same thing. I jump into action and begin searching the aircraft for the source of the smoke. The smoke begins to get thicker and still we can’t find the source.
I grab my protective breathing equipment and put it on. By now I’ve also assigned a fellow flight attendant to relay information to the captain and he makes the informed decision to land the plane. It’s 15 minutes to landing and I’m still searching for the source of the smoke with no avail. I have an extinguisher in hand in hopes that I can find the flames. We’ve told our passengers to keep their heads down low, breath through their clothing, and be prepared to brace for an emergency landing. I get word that it’s 8 minutes to landing and I’m still searching for the source. By now the smoke is very thick and it’s difficult to see anything at all.
Suddenly the flames appear and I spring into action; firing my extinguisher only to realize it has no charge! I call out to my backup attendant for another extinguisher, I can’t see her but almost immediately a second one slides to my feet. It’s been prepped (pin pulled) and is ready to use. I fire at the base of the flames and put the fire out. But oh no! Re-ignition! Passengers are screaming and time is running out. My extinguisher depleted, I call out again for a replacement and almost immediately it is delivered. This time I successfully put out the flame. “WATER!” I call out. After what feels like an eternity passes and then a bottle is handed to me. In reality it was only a matter of seconds. The fire is a type A (combustible material) so I douse the area with water to ensure the temperature is low enough to prevent another re-ignition. My backup calls out “2 Minutes to landing, flight attendants be seated!” I scramble to put the extinguishers away and in the end take two of them back to my seat since at this point I can’t see my hand in front of my face due to the smoke, let alone the wall brackets for the extinguishers. We touch down, stop, and are immediately ordered to evacuate. We get everyone off the plane safe and sound. The next thing I hear is the clapping of our instructors. My simulation is complete, and I’ve passed.
I’m later told that this scenario is one of the hardest, and usually people start to panic when they can’t find the fire right away or when the first extinguisher doesn’t work. Apparently they were impressed with how calm I remained while things continually went wrong.
Knowing how to fight a fire in the sky is a matter of life and death. As flight attendants we have to be able to deal with this type of emergency without any hesitation. After all, at 41,000 feet there is no other help coming.