Shouting ‘fire’ on a crowded train

I’ve just found out about something that’s almost as scary as numbers stations. Inspector Sands. I’ve seen more than one person on the internet calling themselves this, and I always thought it was the same person. I’m not so sure now!

Inspector Sands is actually code for “get ready to run for your fucking life”. Most people report that the code is used in train stations or on trains, although it seems to be used all over the shop. Personally, I’ve never noticed it being said, although some people’s suspicions are aroused by the obviously pre-recorded and conspicuous nature of the announcement.

A message such as “Would Inspector Sands please come to the control room immediately?” is actually a way of telling staff members that there might be (or already is?) a fire. They don’t actually say there is a fire so that members of the public don’t start panicking.

The thing is, Inspector Sands actually seems to be quite a widespread codeword. So there are probably quite a lot of people who know that if they hear Inspector Sands being called for it might be something to worry about.

Inspector Sands has been featured in The Guardian‘s Notes and Queries. Maybe he’s getting too famous, so perhaps if you want to stay a step ahead of the rest of the general public you should just question any odd announcement for somebody with a conspicuous name.

There is an old discussion about Inspector Sands at b3ta. People are sharing all sorts of codewords, some of which give me the willies. Apparently if you’re ever in Ikea or John Lewis and they give a timecheck over the loudspeaker, that means that there is a bomb threat! I don’t think I’ll ever be able to set foot in Ikea again simply out of fear of hearing that message.

Woolworths is very boring; we don’t have codes for anything. Not as far as I know anyway… From b3ta:

I once found a gramaphone record containing “this branch of Woolworth’s is on fire, repeat, this branch etc etc” that was meant to be played automatically down the telephone to the fire brigade in the event of a fire.


  1. “Apparently if you’re ever in Ikea or John Lewis and they give a timecheck over the loudspeaker, that means that there is a bomb threat!”

    Don’t know about Ikea, but in John Lewis this is true (I used to work there). I think if there’s a message like “the time has been reset to…” means all clear.

  2. This is strange. I found out about Inspector Sands for the first time the other week when I was in Rome. It seemed that a variation on it used by staff in our hotel was “Mr Constantino”, an all-purpose warning to other staff members regarding drunk, angry or obnoxious guests.

    After we’d heard this a few times, I was informed that if I should ever find myself in a tube station and hear the presence of “Inspector Sands” requested, I should leave the station quickly…

  3. Hi,

    Now that is funny, inspector sands, maybe they are talking in code about hey we need sand to put out the fire.

    But if a shop or department store had a fire they would sound an evacuation alarm.