when there's a smoke detector...
Mood: tired
Posted on 2007-11-11 14:54:00
Words: 620

djedi woke me up at around 5:25 this morning, asking "Do you hear that beeping?" Somewhat groggy, I listened, and indeed there was a soft but definite beeping coming from somewhere. We walked out of the bedroom and the noise got louder, and finally out on the balcony when it was pretty darn loud. It seemed to be coming from a building across the parking lot, and it was definitely an alarm from a smoke detector. We looked and didn't see any smoke or anything, but of course that doesn't mean that nothing was happening. Apparently it woke him up and had been going off for 5-10 minutes by this point.

So, we debated what to do. djedi reminded me that our complex has a number for after-hours maintenance emergencies, which seemed like a reasonable compromise between doing nothing and calling 911. I called the office number and listened to the various options for residents - there was "report an after-hours maintenance emergency", but there was also a "report a disturbance or loud noise", which seemed to fit the bill. I hit that option and it said to call the police. Hmm, OK.

Calling 311 seemed like the right thing to do, since it's the non-emergency version of 911 and useful if you're not sure whether to bother the "real" 911. (912?) I called and explained there was a smoke detector alarm going off for 10-15 minutes by this point and she straight away connected me to 911. Which made me feel better about the whole thing; I said "fire" and explained the situation. The guy said they'd send a truck out and to call back if we saw any flames or smelled smoke, etc. So I threw some clothes on, went downstairs to meet the truck and try to find the source of the noise. It turns out a high-pitched noise like that is fairly difficult to locate (the principle behind the ThinkGeek Annoy-a-tron), but eventually I found the apartment, which was indeed across the parking lot. Oddly enough, the sliding door, a window, and the water heater closet were all open.

The truck showed up in around five minutes (just as it rolled up the beeping stop and I thought we would be made fools of, but then it started again), and I pointed them to the source of the beeping. At that point I kinda wondered how they had gotten through the gate (do they have some kinda magic clicker that rotates through frequencies? doesn't that mean that gates are pretty insecure?) and how they would get in the apartment. Awesomely enough, a guy pulled out a big ladder and climbed on the roof and stepped over to the balcony, then went to let the other people in (there were 5 of them total). They seemed to be searching the apartment, then came out to the balcony again and fiddled with something and the infernal beeping stopped! Hooray!

The guy explained that the apartment was undergoing renovation, and the smoke detectors (two of them) were sitting out on the balcony, and the dust and drywall particles must have settled on them and set them off. (smoke detectors detect particulate matter, not smoke specifically. News to me...) They left and we returned to bed, although it took me a while to actually get back to sleep.

The surprising thing was that that there's an apartment below them with a car parked outside, so apparently people were there and slept through it? I mean, that thing was loud - can't imagine honestly not being woken up by it. Although I guess they probably knew that there was no one in the apartment above...but there still could have been a fire, dagnabit!


Comment from amorphousplasma:

911 is kind of the default "call the police" number for a lot of cities. You shouldn't feel "bad" for calling it, I think. I've called it a number of times- for stranded motorists, minor car accidents, that sort of things. You wouldn't have known if there might have been a fire, so I think you were justified. I called it for a dumpster fire at an apartment once.

Also I think there's a mandatory box at all gates for fire/police vehicles. Not sure how it works, but I've seen it before and it's how they get in.

At our last apartment complex, anytime you set off the fire alarm in your apartment it also set off a siren and strobe outside your apartment. Not just a beeping inside. No one could sleep through that. Perhaps safer, but infinitely more annoying!

Comment from wildrice13:

Pretty sure that gate box works with a key. There's one on my gate, maybe I'll check it out tonight. Perhaps it's the same fire key that's installed in elevators?

Comment from gregstoll:

Ooh, that would be pretty clever!

Comment from wonderjess:

Dad told the story once of someone setting a mattress on fire in a suite he lived in while at UR (something about smoking in bed). They ended up tossing the mattress (still on fire, I guess?) off the balcony, which took care of the problem as far as they were concerned. However, someone in their suite slept through the whole thing (including the very loud alarm going off)...

Comment from liz_gregory:

They work using a very small amount of radioactive material that sends a stream of particles to a detector. When that stream of particles is interrupted, the alarm goes off. And since it's an isotope that's around for a few thousand years, you're never really have one go bad because of _that_ particular issue.

check out cifarelli's post a month or so ago the hear trials and tribulations about hunting down beeping smoke detectors and wondering why replacing the batteries seems to do nothing.

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