With 48 separate fires blazing in 10 Western states (12 in California alone), our house decided we needed to have a fire drill. Here’s my story about what happened this past Friday…
“Wee-wah, wee-wah, wee-wah,” blared the alarm with an ear-splitting screech. Jumping out of bed from a dead sleep, I whisper to Charlie, “it’s the alarm!” As I nervously walk to our bedroom door, Charlie sit-ups in bed. “Come with me,” I whisper loudly over the deafening alarm.
Suddenly, the house is silent. We creep room-to-room, turning on lights as we go. Nothing. No door opened, no window cracked. Nothing.
Just as we are beginning to feel a small semblance of relief, the alarm triggers again – a nerve-wracking cacophony of blaring bells piercing the silence.
Realizing the noise is from the smoke detectors and not the burglar alarm, we are relieved that we won’t be facing an intruder, but unsettled by the continuing clamor and the unnerving feeling of dread.
We have 10 smoke detectors and ALL are going off! Going room-by-room systematically, we check everything – closets, bathrooms, kitchen, kitchen appliances, fireplaces. No evidence of a fire; no smell of a fire. We go out to the garage – nothing. We head outside and walk around our house in the dark. It’s 4:45 a.m. and pitch black outside.
Alarms still blaring, I carry in a 12-foot ladder from our garage. The only way to turn them off is to climb the ladder and turn them off manually. As I set up the ladder, the alarms go silent.
Relieved that we finally have a respite from the noise, Charlie and I look at each other trying to decide what to do next. We’ve lived in this house almost 5 years and this has never happened before.
We decide to call our alarm company. At this time of the wee morning hours, we would have someone to talk to – a live person to ask questions. Our alarm company is manned 24/7. We find the number and I make the call.
A nice young woman listens to my story as I ask her questions as to WHY smoke detectors would trigger with no apparent fire. She starts down a list of possibilities, including dust or insects in the sensors and while talking, the alarm goes off again. Of course she can hear it…it’s loud enough to wake the dead!
She suggests we call our local fire department, just to be sure.
After hanging up, I ask Charlie to go and get dressed and to put on his shoes. Charlie, my husband of 24 years, is handicapped and uses a mobility scooter full-time. Charlie goes back to our bedroom and I call our local, volunteer fire department.
No answer. Is this a sign of budget cuts?
I call directory assistance and ask for the phone number of the nearest town’s fire department. We live in the country, on the outskirts of town.
A female dispatcher answers and listens to my story. While talking to her, the alarm goes off again. She tells me that her fire department does not service our area, that I need to call the San Diego fire department, because they service the unincorporated areas of the county. She offers to transfer me and gives me the number, too, just in case we are disconnected.
By then, Charlie has returned, dressed. I ask him to take over and make the call to the San Diego fire department while I go and get dressed and corral our cat, Coco. I wanted to get Coco in his pet carrier, just in case we did, indeed, need to evacuate.
We already had the garage doors open (from our foray outside in the dark of night), so we could move our cars, if needed. In the event of a power failure, it is possible that our garage doors won’t open and would need to be opened manually. I’d already been down this road before during a planned power outage with the local electric company. Our back-up generator didn’t kick-on (it had a faulty battery), so I tried to open the garage doors manually. I wasn’t strong enough to lift the doors up over my head and give them just enough of an upward push to get them to automatically take over and continue their upward climb. I had to get a ladder and move the garage doors up incrementally until I was able to shove them into position. I didn’t want to go through that again!
As I was getting dressed, I looked for Coco’s pet carrier. Where the heck was that darn thing? Oh, of course; it was out in the garage with all of our emergency planning gear! Locating it, I come back inside and find Coco languishing on the kitchen counter. I pick him up and attempt to put him in the pet carrier as he struggles against me. He’s not been in the pet carrier for at least 6 months (a trip to the vet’s) and of course, knows that the pet carrier means something NOT GOOD is going on! He starts caterwauling immediately – a loud, piteously mournful wail that on top of the blaring smoke detectors rattles me to the core.
I get my purse, car keys and cell phone. Just as I’m trying to decide whether or not to go ahead and put Coco in the car, a fire engine arrives with 3 huge, strapping fire fighters. Charlie meets them outside as I pick up Coco’s pet carrier to try and calm him.
Charlie tells them the story – they immediately split up and take different parts of the house. One uses the ladder and climbs up to view the attic space. Another goes room-by-room with a heat sensor. While they are doing their thing, the smoke detectors continue to go off for 5 or 10 minutes at a time and then quit. Relative calm for about 10 minutes and then back on!
They walk the property and after checking every possible thing, they decide that the smoke detectors are faulty. They leave; it’s now about 6:30 a.m.
At 7:00 a.m., Charlie calls our electrician. This electric company installed our back-up generators and provides service to us on any electrical issues. Fortunately, it’s Friday (don’t these things often happen on a week-end?) and the owner answers the phone and says he’s about a half hour away and will come immediately.
True to his word, he shows up and after climbing up and down the ladder, moving room-to-room (smoke alarms blaring) and testing everything, including our breakers, determines that something is wrong with the smoke detectors. The only way to resolve the issue is to purchase new ones and install them. These 10 smoke detectors are hard-wired together and when one goes off, they all go off. He disconnects them all and leaves to purchase new ones, promising to return later in the day to finish the job.
When was your last fire drill? Ours was this past Friday…
Here are pictures from the beautiful breaking dawn on Friday morning…
This is our field to the west. In fire preparedness terms, they would call this cleared dirt landscape “defensible space”. See the moon high in the sky on the right?
We lost our home in 2007 in the San Diego County Wildfire known as the Witch Fire. Because of what we have been through in the past, I have made emergency preparedness a priority in our lives. While it is impossible to plan for every possible contingency, having some planning done is better than none.
To that end, I wrote a 20-part series about the loss of our home in the Witch Fire, that launched last October. Along with that story, I’ve created a FREE 12-page Emergency Planning Checklist plus written a post called What’s in Your First Aid Kit.
In addition, over the last few months, I have released several “lists of 42” household items to use for household inventory purposes. These lists are cumulative and do not repeat, plus I have at least 10 more in the works that will be released over the next several months. The real purpose of these lists is to help all of readers of our blog with their household inventory planning. Chances are, in your lifetime, you will NOT experience a catastrophic loss. But, if you do, these lists will help you develop the personal property inventory list that you will have to submit to your insurance company in order to collect under your insurance policy.
It took me 9 months to do our personal property inventory list for our insurance company. It would have taken me much less time if I’d had a tool such as the “lists of 42” that I’ve created and the future ones to come.
Please share this information with family and friends. Chances are that they know someone who knows someone who knows someone who has just lost their home in one of the 48 fires now burning…
Until Next Time,
(other Emergency Planning posts including the “lists of 42” already available on our blog; all have FREE printables)
- 42 Baking Essentials
- 42 Cooking Essentials for a Well-stocked Kitchen
- 42 Grilling Accessories and Supplies for Outdoor Cooking
- 42 Kitchen Basics for Your New Home
- 42 Must Have Kitchen Utensils
- 42 Nice-to-Have Kitchen Supplies and Equipment
- 42 Spices to Have on Hand
- Emergency Planning Checklist (this is a 12-page checklist to work on one-month at a time)
- Hurricane Sandy
- What’s in Your First Aid Kit?
(other posts about the loss of our home in the Witch Fire)
- Any Way the Wind Blows (Prologue)
- The Valley That Time Forgot (Chapter 1)
- Eye of the Storm (Chapter 2)
- In the Blink of an Eye (Chapter 3)
- Too Far From Home (Chapter 3A – Tiffany’s story)
- Between a Rock and a Hard Place (Chapter 4)
- In a Blue Funk (Chapter 5)
- Back to Square One (Chapter 6)
- One Step Forward, Two Steps Back (Chapter 7)
- Not Me! Who Me? Why Me? It’s Me (Chapter 8)
- The Whole Kit and Caboodle (Chapter 9)
- Feathering the Nest (Chapter 10)
- The Blind Leading the Blind (Chapter 11)
- Apple Pie Order (Chapter 12)
- All Hands on Deck (Chapter 13)
- In the Lap of Luxury (Chapter 14)
- Much of Muchness (Chapter 15)
- The Backup Plan (Chapter 16)
- What’s in Your First Aid Kit? (Chapter 17)
- Emergency Planning Checklist (Chapter 18)
- Counting Our Blessings (Chapter 19)
- Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (Chapter 20)