Where there’s a smoke alarm…


Two of the six fire trucks that were on my street, originally uploaded by Lisa Brewster.

When I came home from work tonight, I noticed a strange burning smell. It got stronger as I walked towards my apartment, and soon I heard a smoke detector going off. I walked around a bit to pinpoint the source, and sure enough I found an apartment that had a funny burning smell (no smoke or flames).

I knew I had to do something but wasn’t sure what the appropriate course of action was, so I called Dave and asked him to txt me the number of the San Diego fire department. But that number only works during business hours, so I decided I had no choice to go ahead and dial 911 (which I’ve never had to do before). I told the dispatcher what was going on, and just a few minutes later there were SIX fire trucks pulling up. I didn’t say it was an emergency when the 911 system prompted me and told the dispatcher there wasn’t even any smoke, but apparently the fire department doesn’t mess around.

Turns out there had been a pot left on the stove, so they turned it off, squirted some stuff to help “eat” the smoke, and vented the apartment out with a fairly big gas powered fan. No harm done.

What bothers me though, is that while talking with the other neighbors who came to see what was going on, a couple of them had heard the alarm and smelled smoke, but didn’t take action. Middle-aged, seemingly intelligent adults. Now I admit I didn’t know exactly what to do at first, but at least I knew not to ignore it.

Tomorrow I’m going to mention this incident to the onsite manager, and ask that they send out a flyer that outlines who to call in different kinds of situations, what constitutes an emergency, list of phone numbers, etc. I used to have recurring nightmares of my house burning down when I was a kid, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to live in a complex where neighbors are too uneducated or too apathetic to show stewardship for the building we all share.

PS: What’s foreshadowingly creepy is that I just remembered that I was listening to NPR’s Performance Today show on the drive home, which happened to be a fire-themed episode (and had some great covers of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire).

8 thoughts on “Where there’s a smoke alarm…

  1. When I was an RA, I was woken up one morning by several students with reports of smoke. My response was “pull the fire alarm”. Unfortunately we’ve trained people through all their schooling that pulling the fire alarm is wrong; something you will be punished for.

  2. I had the same reaction!! I saw a fire alarm on one of the support columns right by this guy’s front door, but I didn’t know if that would do something crazy like turn on all the sprinklers in the building.

  3. In the USA, just remember 911 and call that. My cell phone once had the local numbers for nearby police and fire departments but I stopped using them after they all told me at one time or another to just call 911. Direct dialing the first responders just seems to confuse them; I have much better luck calling 911.

  4. That’s definitely an education issue!

    When you pull a fire alarm, it sets off the alarm, not the sprinklers. Sprinkler systems today have small vials of that burst when temperatures get too hot, melting/boiling the and trigger the sprinklers. (Clearly, I’m not a total expert, but I understand the net effect of how these work. I’m sure wikipedia has more details, but it doesn’t matter that much.)

    I always call 911 in any situation that may be an emergency. In the case that it was an emergency, help is on the way. Even if it doesn’t look like an emergency, like a fender bender on the freeway in rush hour, or a stranded motorist in an unsafe section of freeway, I’ll call to notify in case no one had yet called. If people look very distraught, I’ll say so. I don’t want to offer information that declares a situation non-emergency when it may have been. Often, the operator tells me it’s already been reported, no harm, no foul, and I took no more than 30 seconds of the operator’s time.

    The six trucks showing up may be impacted by your neighborhood, the density of housing in that area, the average age of buildings, etc. If you were in a warehouse district in Chicago and a kitchen fire turned into a blaze, that could quickly spread to multiple buildings. Better safe than sorry!

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