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I Got Alarmed 8

I Got Alarmed

Recently, I was working a volunteer shift at the local fire station. About an hour before the shift ended, I got an alert on my phone indicating that the smoke detector in our home laundry room had been activated.

The smoke detection system in our house used to be hardwired to the electrical system. But on random occasions, it would go off in the middle of the night. There was nothing worse than having overnight guests running around half naked wanting to know if the house was on fire and what personal items they should take with them as they fled into the yard. Since we couldn’t seem to fix the sporadic alarms, we decided to disconnect the hardwired system and install a wireless one. It was easy to install and among other features, it offered security alarms, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide sensors.

Unfortunately, the system doesn’t offer mice and snake detectors. I would pay extra for that level of protection. I grew up in a rural area and I now live in the woods. I don’t like the idea that outside critters can find their way inside. But no matter how well sealed a house is, mice seem to find a way in. And snakes love to follow the mice. It’s a constant battle to keep the critters out. 

However, it was worse when I was younger. I grew up in a house that was not very well sealed and it had a dirt basement. We were always terrified to go down into the basement because we were sure that some kind of child-eating animal lived there. Legend has it that my brother used a .22 rifle to shoot a huge rat in our basement, just to keep it from coming upstairs. That’s like a scene from Deliverance.

I’m sure you think I’m exaggerating, but here is an example of how scary our basement was. In 2011, a long time after I had moved away, and a couple of years after my father died, my mother was still living in our childhood home. She was in her late eighties when a tornado came through town and touched down about two miles from the house. The local news had warned the community and told everyone to take shelter in their basements. My mother, however, put a kitchen chair in the hallway and sat there during the storm. She later said, “I’d rather die in a tornado than go down into that basement.”

Anyway, back to the smoke detector in my laundry room. After I installed the wireless system, I would occasionally test the alarms by pushing the button on the cover of each device. The alarm would work, like it should, but the smoke detectors had never been activated by real smoke. So, I didn’t know if they actually worked. But the entire system ran a weekly self check and it appeared that all of the devices were functional.

On the night that I got the alert, I called my wife to see if she knew an alarm had been activated in the laundry room. When she answered the phone, it sounded like she was in the middle of an air raid. I could hear a variety of beeps and sirens, and she was trying to yell over the noise. She said, “I was cooking dinner and the smoke detector went off.” As a side note, I usually cook dinner and the smoke detector has never gone off. I’m not judging, but she kept saying, “There’s not that much smoke, (cough, cough) there’s just not that much smoke. I’m not sure why the alarm’s going off (cough, cough).”

I told her to go to the master panel and turn the system off. She ran to the panel and started pushing buttons. I kept getting alerts on my phone about different sensors being deactivated and one even indicated that we had lowered our neighbor’s garage door. But the smoke alarms never went off. I told her I would try to turn it off using the app on my phone. I opened the app and hit “Deactivate” several times but it didn’t seem to work.

While all of this was happening, I got a call from the alarm company. So, I immediately hung up on my wife. In hindsight, I probably should have said, “goodbye” but at this point I was in emergency responder mode and had abandoned my telephone etiquette. The alarm company representative said, “Mr. Culberson, we are showing that the smoke detector in your laundry room was activated. We tried to reach Mrs. Culberson but she didn’t answer.”

I told her that my wife was cooking dinner and apparently, the smoke had set off the alarm. I assured her that there was no fire. I then casually mentioned that I usually cook dinner and had never set off the alarm. The representative suggested that in the future, I should keep those kinds of comments to myself. I acknowledged her sage advice. The representative then asked if I wanted to cancel the alarm. I said yes and thanked her.

Just as I hung up, the emergency tones at the fire station went off and I heard the dispatcher say, “Fire alarm at the Culberson residence.” The officer on duty that night had heard me talking to alarm company so he radioed the dispatcher and cancelled the call. One of the other crew members joked that “Firefighter Ron’s wife was  cooking up some firefighting for him to do.” So. Very. Funny.

I called my wife back and thankfully, all of the alarms had stopped. Later, I realized that our settings had not given us enough time to turn off the alarms. We have since adjusted the settings and hopefully, we won’t run into this kind of problem again.

After volunteering in fire and rescue for the past five years, I know the importance of early warnings. Whether it’s a health monitor or a smoke detector, we should all have systems in our lives that alert us when something’s wrong. That way, we can take care of a problem before it becomes a bigger problem. When we care for ourselves, we are more likely to have longer, healthier, and happier lives.

And as far as our smoke detection system goes, at least we know it works—and that helps us sleep better at night.

And as far as the meal goes, it was delicious. My wife thought I should mention that.


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