Why they call it a firedrill

Sailors conduct a fire drill aboard USS Enterp...

Sailors conduct a fire drill aboard USS Enterprise. (Photo credit: Official U.S. Navy Imagery)

“Drop everything and help solve this problem!”

At work, when a situation calls for this request, we call it a “fire drill”.  I feel like the association of stopping everything to leave the building and avoid a hypothetical death by flame make sense.  The term evokes a sense of panic.  But what I don’t understand is how it got into the lexicon to signify arriving at an emergency solution?  It seems to me that fire drills are intended for practice and preparation, so that in the event of an emergency you are prepared and muscle memory guides you to safety.  Not to mention the folks i the orange vests and hats.  It does not signify actually putting out a fire, however.

So, where does this use of the term come from?

According to, this term is:

Used by investment bankers(usually analysts) to mean they have something to get done and get back to someone really fast. Part of speech is variable. Also used by bankers when they go out to mean chug your drink.
“No, I’m firedrill right now for a VP”
“Oh that sucks, I had a bunch of firedrills this morning”
“I hate being in firedrill mode”
“Yeah I wish we hadn’t firedrilled those shots last night”
Working in the private sector, I know the term extends outside of investment banking.  I hadn’t heard the drinking part, though.  I imagine the slang term “fire drill” is intended to point to the non-emergency status of corporate problems.  Perhaps it is meant to infer that we are dropping everything to address as situation that is a “fake” emergency?  I think we often panic in the workplace when details slip our grasp or there is a last minute request:  in lieu of saying “hang on a minute, lets take some time to figure this out” or “no”.
I welcome any and all input to help get to the bottom of this semiotic emergency.
I had a doozy of a “fire drill” today and came out a safety vest-wearing champion!
now i plan on “firedrilling” some bourbon….
Categories: Anthropology, Corporate Culture, Jargon, Participant Observation, Uncategorized | Tags: | Leave a comment

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