Horns sounded, lights flashed, and Soldiers and civilian employees filed out the center doors of Building 42, home to the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, on Oct. 5.

Joe Murphy watched them all pass by, making comments to a few familiar faces. Once everyone had exited, Murphy turned off the fire alarm, stepped out into the light mist, and spoke briefly to those assembled.

"The good thing about fires is ... they always happen to other people," Murphy said. "When you go home tonight, you look in the mirror. You see those other people. It very well could be you. It doesn't just happen to other people."

Murphy, the fire inspector for the Directorate of Emergency Services, U.S. Army Garrison-Natick, has been giving some version of this speech for 29-plus years. The fact that three families associated with USAG-Natick had experienced fires this year only added urgency to his message.

With the holidays coming up, Murphy warned his audience about the dangers of candles and the importance of having their heating systems serviced by professionals.

"Everybody be careful," Murphy said. "Your building looks great. Thank you for coming out on a cold day. I appreciate it."

Then Murphy was off to Building 45. As he prepared for the drill there, he glanced at the sophisticated electronic fire alarm system.

"When I started here, we didn't have all this," Murphy said.

Ultimately, he would conduct the annual drills at more than two dozen occupied buildings at Natick during Fire Prevention Week 2010.

"Everything's been - except for the weather - great," said Murphy, adding that in the fire drills, he looks for "orderly evacuations, accountability."