Insane Origin Story Behind The Office's Fire Drill Cold Open

Insane Origin Story Behind The Office's Fire Drill Cold Open
Image credit: NBC

Can you believe we almost got a poker game instead of that?


  • To this day, the fire drill cold open remains one of The Office 's most iconic scenes
  • The scene was created as a way to draw more people to The Office and make use of the post-Super Bowl screen time

Each legendary sitcom has its own little milestones. For The Office, they are particular scenes (most commonly, cold opens): dinner party, the one with Kevin's chili, and — of course — the fire drill.

First of all, let's take a trip down the memory lane: the fire drill episode is titled Stress Relief, and it is an iconic two-parter in season 5. A typical day in Scranton's Dunder Mifflin starts off almost as usual — until Dwight Schrute takes the stage, all eager to teach his colleagues a lesson in fire safety.

His good intentions kickstart the most bonkers sequence in The Office history — Dwight has not only started the fire in the office, but also set up some traps for his clueless colleagues to fall into. The scene is an epitome of the word "chaotic," as the entire Scranton Branch panics and runs for its live.

And it almost didn't happen!

How Did The Office Showrunners Come Up With the Fire Drill Episode?

The fire drill sequence was initially planned to be... a poker game thing. The idea was to have Jim lose Pam in a poker game, and it could have been a really nice cold open — just not for the Super Bowl episode!

"That was a very stressful time because Greg [Daniels] came in one day and he had a big idea inspired by some French film he saw," writer Gene Stupnitssky recalled, according to Andy Green's book The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s. "Basically the idea was that Jim loses Pam in a poker game. He was like the father of us all and we were like, 'Dad … Your idea … We’re not so sure about it.'"

Still, the writers did try to make sure it worked out (it didn't). Luckily, writer Anthony Farrell recalled how they managed to come up with something just as "big and crazy and wild" as the Super Bowl episode required.

Dwight setting up the fire was the perfect "stress" to the "relief" part of the episode — which, ironically, also turned out to be a challenge. For quite a while, the fire drill episode did not have a proper ending, until writer Halsted Sullivan came up with the idea to have the Dunder Mifflin workers roast their boss Michael Scott.

The roast came from his personal experience. Sullivan's father was a president of a medical school in Atlanta, where they had an annual tradition of students coming together and making fun of their professors.

"It was a fun evening, but it was also like, 'Oh, is this really what you think of me?' And that turned into the roast of Michael, where he was able to bring the office together again and restore order after all this chaos by becoming the victim. Of course, it did really hurt his feelings, but in the end it brought the office back together," Sullivan recalled.

If this story already has you all nostalgic, you can head to Peacock and stream Stress Relief — as well as the rest of the show — yourself.

Source: The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s