In Which I Conquer a Smoke Alarm

Last Thursday, after staying up late to watch a movie, I went upstairs to get ready for bed. A few minutes later, I walked into our bedroom, closed the door, and laid down. After a relaxing 20 seconds, I heard that brief, high-pitched chirp of a smoke alarm. I immediately groaned.

The problem isn’t so much that a smoke alarm needs new batteries; that’s not a big deal at all. The problem, beside the fact that this only happens between 11:00 PM and 6:00 AM, is that it’s extremely difficult to determine which alarm needs the batteries. All the alarms in our house have green lights on them, so I’m not sure why a dying battery can’t be denoted by, say, a light change to red. That would be perfect, actually, because then I would hear the chirp, and then instantly be able to determine which alarm requires maintenance based on the one that has a red light.

But, no. That would be too easy for Kidde (the hilariously-named alarm manufacturer).

So I sat up in bed and stared at the alarm in the bedroom. Another chirp. Did it come from the alarm directly above me? I don’t know. I can’t quite tell. The sound is so foreign and so quick, it’s hard to know for sure.

So I walk out into the hallway and call down to Jennifer (who’s still awake downstairs). “Did you hear that?” I ask her. Yeah, she did, but she has no idea which alarm it is, either. She claims it’s coming from upstairs.

While in the hall, I hear the chirp again. Now I’m really confused, because we have five alarms upstairs: one in each bedroom, on in the bathroom, and one in the hall, and they are all close to each other. It’s true: we don’t have a hallway as much as we have a squareway (some friends of ours used this term to describe their nearly square hallway, and it’s appropriate for our home, too). Each alarm is situated only about two feet into each room, so if I was to position a stool in any of the four doorways, I could probably touch both the squareway’s alarm and any given room’s alarm.

I figure my best bet is to check Owen’s room next. He’s in there, sleeping. As is Isla, who’s sharing a room with her brother while we work on her bedroom. Astoundingly, they’re both sound asleep despite the alarm’s high-pitched cry. I hoist myself onto the foot of Owen’s bed, and remove the alarm from the ceiling.

I walk downstairs and remove the two nine-volt batteries. At this point, I just want to get to bed, especially since I knew I had to get up early in the morning. But the alarm continues to chirp even with the batteries removed. This is annoying, of course, because not only does the alarm have a built-in back-up battery, but it was plugged in to the electrical wiring via the ceiling, so there really is no safety issue whatsoever here.

So then I walk down to the Windsor (that’s the name of our lowest landing), and grab our box of batteries. There are about 20 double-A batteries in there, and just as many triple-A’s. But there are only two nine-volts in there, so I grab them and shove them into the alarm. Then I stand there and stare at the alarm for about a minute until the stupid thing chirps again. Which, since it’s 11:30 PM, it does.

Now I don’t know what to do. I’m not running out to Walgreen’s to buy batteries, and I don’t want to hear the chirping all night. The last time an alarm cried out for batteries in the middle of the night and I had no batteries on hand to satiate it, I took it out to our garage and placed it in the bottom of my toolbox. But that was in our last house. My current residence’s garage is detached, meaning I’d have to go outside in the cold to get to my garage and, worse, I have a guy who rents the adjacent workshop, and I don’t want him to have to hear the chirp, either.

But then I notice the sticker on the alarm indicates it was manufactured in November 2001 and that this alarm should be replaced after ten years. So, at eleven-plus years, I figure it’s had a good run. I head down to the basement, recruiting my crowbar along the way.

I walk into our spare room  and lay the alarm on the concrete floor about midway between the litter box and our spare chairs. I then beat the living shit out of that annoying little device. I hit it again and again; a piece flew up and hit me in the face, and I heard another piece hit the wall, some four feet away. Wires and plastic and a tiny box with americium spun out in every direction. I gotta say, it was an extremely satisfying catharsis. Kind of like taking part in a standing ovation, or coming to the surface after you’ve held your breath under water for a minute, or finally sneezing after your nose has been tickling you. Regardless, I achieved a natural high and felt so alive I wasn’t sure I could fall asleep after all the excitement.

I plan to buy some nine-volts next time I’m at the store. In the meantime, go ahead and chirp, smoke alarms. I dare you.

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3 Responses to In Which I Conquer a Smoke Alarm

  1. David says:

    I heard the chirp last week while I was getting ready for work. I didn’t feel like playing the game so I left it to one of the other residents to figure out which one was crying for a new battery. I came home that day with a small handful of nine volts only to find that the chirping had stopped between the time I left for work and the time everyone else woke up.

    I didn’t hear it again until this morning. I narrowed it down to two possible candidates before leaving for work. I would have changed it, but my annoyance with the chirp was not as high as my curiosity for whether it would, again, stop chirping when I left for work.

    The timing of your post brought a smile to my face. Also interesting (“interesting” may be a stretch) about the timing is that this past weekend would have been day light saving time under the old rules and daylight saving time has been suggested as the day to change all your smoke alarm batteries.

  2. James says:

    Glad you like it, David.
    Yeah, if this happened right when we were leaving hte house, I’d leave it alone for another time, too. But at night, right when I’m trying to get to sleep, there were really no other options.
    That’s strange that your alarm was intermittently chirping. Maybe a faulty wire?

  3. Mike says:

    Nicely done, James!

    I may have to call the Haz Mat unit, though, as I think most detectors have a radioactive component!

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