Wednesday, August 02, 2023

False Alarm

I read somewhere once that a verbal fire alarm is better than one that simply beeps at you. I can't remember where I read that now, but I think the idea of it was that it can be hard to wrap your head around what's happening in a true emergency situation. The verbal cues can be enough to help you snap out of your shock and jump into action.

When we moved into this house none of the fire alarms were active. That is, most of them were completely absent and the ones that were present had no batteries in them (the batteries weren't dead...they weren't there). I could hardly sleep at night until Andrew brought home a big pack of smoke detectors from Costco. 

The ones he got are actually combination smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. You can program them to announce what room they're in. we have a detector in every room. 

We know they work because we test them somewhat regularly—most recently when Andrew was browning the pork chops he'd just taken out of the sous vide. 

"Warning! Warning! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Smoke detected in...dining room! Evacuate...dining room! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Warning! Warning! Smoke detected in..." began the smoke detector in the dining room. Then...

"Warning! Warning! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Smoke detected in...hallway! Evacuate...hallway! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Warning! Warning!" the smoke detector up the stairs announced.

We waved towels in front of the detectors to get them hush up, and aired out the house, and all the while Phoebe screamed and cried. 

Now that she's aware of all the smoke detectors around the house, she'll eye them suspiciously when she passes underneath them, as if afraid they'll start screeching at her at any moment. She passes the laundry room with the same amount of suspicion (because the vacuum sleeps in there and who knows when it will wake up and start its horrible sucking noises!!).

I sleep better knowing that we have smoke detectors (and carbon monoxide detectors) in each bedroom and living space. That is, until last night...

Phoebe was...having an obnoxious night...and was up from around 12:30 to 2:30. She got up and asked me to read a story to her and I was like, "" and putting her to bed proved difficult. She was determined to stay awake so that she could read a story. At one point I was positive she had fallen asleep, so I left her, but then I heard a little pitter patter and went to check on her.

She had found a book and was sitting on a chair in the hallway, reading it.

And that sounds fine. It does. It sounds great!

If she would just wake up and read to herself until she was ready to go back to sleep, that would be fine by me. 

But Phoebe is a chaos machine. She's not just going to read a story. 

She's going to read a story...and then she's going to drink out of the toilet...squeeze toothpaste all over the bathroom...draw on her brothers' faces...etc. etc. etc. 

She needs supervision if she's going to be awake. 

So, I reminded her that it was the middle of the night and put her back in her bed and she finally, finally fell asleep for good around 2:30. 

Andrew and I went to bed and...Phoebe had already climbed into bed with us (that kid never sleeps!)...when my dream-self heard a distant...yet persistent...beeping noise. So my dream-self stopped to listen and heard a voice saying, "Warning! Warning!"

I shook myself awake and peeped at the clock: 5:30.

The beeping continued: "BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!" 

What was going on? Had someone set a flipping alarm again? I hate when the kids set their alarms because they never wake up to them so then I have to get out of bed at all sorts of odd hours to quiet their clocks. 

"Smoke detected in...child's bedroom! Evacuate...child's bedroom!"



I pounded Andrew's back in rhythm to the beeps. 

"Andrew!" I whisper-wailed. "FIRE!?!?!"

Andrew jumped out of bed. "What?! What's going...oh!" he said, as the smoke alarm again reminded us "Smoke detected in...child's bedroom!"

He ran into the dark hallway. I peeled myself away from Phoebe and ran after him. 

The alarm was going off inside Phoebe and Zoë's room, but...there was no smoke. 

Andrew fumbled around to shut off the alarm. Zoë was sound asleep, but the boys had woken up. Poor Alexander stumbled into the hallway asking about why we needed to evacuate the children's bedrooms! What was going on?!

We assured him it was nothing and sent him back to bed. Benjamin had only managed to sit up in a panic, and was happy to lie back down. Phoebe was screaming her head off in our bedroom, so I went back to her, peeking at the roof through our bedroom curtains to see if...perhaps...the roof was on fire.

It wasn't.

Andrew went downstairs to find our infrared thermometer. He pointed that laser in every nook and cranny but didn't find any hot spots, so—after opening all of the windows in Zoë's case it happened to be carbon monoxide (though the smoke detector would have said "carbon monoxide" instead of "smoke" if that were the case)—he returned to bed somewhat confident that the house was not currently on fire. 

One of my theories, which I shared with him to help soothe his nerves, was that—perhaps—a cobweb triggered the sensor. 

I am not known for my housekeeping skills and cobwebs lurk in nearly every corner. It's totally possible that one just got a little too snuggly with the sensor. 

Smoke detectors don't detect smoke, per se. They detect obstruction, so steam, for example (which typically has no carbon or particulate matter in opposed to smoke, which does), will also trigger a fire alarm (we figured out that this is probably why the previous owners removed the smoke detector from right outside the bathroom door in the hallway...because when we put batteries back in it, it did not take long for the steamy shower to trigger the alarm (the alarm in the hallway is now by the closet rather than the bathroom)).

At the HBLL (Harold B. Lee Library), I know they wouldn't allow helium balloons past security because if one floated up to the might trigger the sprinkler system and fire alarms. 

But apparently just having a little bug run inside the smoke detector can cause it to...ahem...misfire. So it's possible a tiny spider, or whatever creepy crawly, could have been triggering the sensor.

Whatever the case, the fire alarm was reinstalled in the girls' room and so far hasn't detected anything else, so whatever it was, was a false alarm. 

But what a good practice run—being ripped from a dead sleep to a fire drill! 

Usually when you have a fire drill they're somewhat planned, or at least occur when you're awake and functional. Conducting one in the dark of the night was somewhat more nerve-wracking. 

But, at least we know that Phoebe, Benjamin, Alexander, and I would all respond to a fire alarm in the middle of the night. Andrew would take some prodding. And then we'd have to rescue Zoë—who slept soundly through all of this! 

Downstairs, Rachel is pretty confident that she would hear the fire alarm (she's a light sleeper) and would then be responsible for waking Miriam up (because Miriam is a sound sleeper).

Anyway, I don't think Andrew or I really ever quite got back to sleep after going back to bed. Phoebe was so distraught and clingy. And Andrew was stuck in an anxiety spiral (he said he felt like me; I'm so honoured). 

Hopefully tonight will be an uneventful one...


  1. Well, that's no fun, but glad you were able to hear the alarm.

    So, the melatonin doesn't keep Phoebe asleep after all?

    1. Melatonin typically doesn't work to keep people asleep; it simply makes them feel sleepy enough to go to bed. And on THAT front, Phoebe is doing much better (meaning we don't spend hours trying to get her to fall asleep the first time). But after sleeping for a couple of hours she's up and down like a yo-yo. :)

    2. My judgement may be impaired in saying anything. So the grain of salt you should take this with should enhance sweetness, like salted caramel. I've got a kid on the Spectrum. At his school (also cousin Kayl's school) parents educated that sleep disorders are very highly (90%?) co-morbid with Autism Spectum Disorders (and possibly other neuro atypicalities?) I'm going to emphasize again that I don't know what I'm talking about, especially right now. But I've wanted to put it on your radar screen for some time.

    3. Thank you, Sharaun! We will definitely keep it on our radar!

  2. Bahahahaha. Our entire family must be on the spectrum, cause who sleeps?!!!

    1. I don't think it's unlikely that some among our number *are* on the spectrum.