As you may know, I started a job recently that primarily involves editing fire investigation reports. All day, I read harrowing tales about malfunctioning space heaters, pillows that were left just a little too close to nightlights, and the depredations of red squirrels. My colleagues mentioned when I started that some increased fire paranoia would be inevitable. And indeed, I find myself wondering why we haven’t gotten around to getting renter’s insurance yet, and whether all the lamps were turned off before I left the house, and was that smoke I just smelled?
It was kind of a cruel twist, then, when on a recent morning the smoke detectors all started going off (or sounding, as house style would have it) while I was shaving in the bathroom. Jane woke up and joined me in trying to figure out what was going on. There was no smoke. Our upstairs neighbor wasn’t home, but I didn’t see any smoke or fire emanating from his place when I looked outside. Still– what if there was something going on up there? I knew already how quickly a fire could ravage a place if not acted on immediately. We tried to give the neighbor a call, but to no avail.
We didn’t want to call 911. It seemed silly with no evidence of fire. But those damn alarms were just sounding and sounding throughout the whole house, upstairs and down. We called the fire department’s regular number but nobody was there; it was around 7:30 am. So we called the police department’s regular number to try to get advice from someone, and inevitably a fire truck came blaring down our street a few minutes later as a result.
Luckily there were no actual emergencies that morning, and the firemen didn’t mind taking a ladder to the upstairs neighbor’s balcony and checking inside, just in case, as well as explaining to us that the fire alarms were hardwired together to an electrical feed and that we probably would not have a fun time trying to shut them off. We ended up having to call in the landlady and her husband to silence the damn things. It was a couple of them malfunctioning.
So no disaster there. But there very well could have been. I’m actually surprised that there aren’t more fires happening every day, just because of all the crazy shit that can go wrong. Thankfully, there are precautions that you can take to increase the odds in your favor. Here are some quick lessons that I’d like to share with you based on my brief experience so far with fire investigation reports:
* If you’re not an electrician, do not do your own wiring for your house. Yes, it’s more complicated than it looks.
* Just don’t smoke. Sooner or later, you’re going to do something stupid while disposing of your butts and ashes.
* Keep combustible stuff away from stuff that is hot.
* And for God’s sake, get a squirrel gun or something! It is indeed probable that those rodents in your attic are chewing on something they shouldn’t be.
Today Jane and I took a hike up Blue Job Mountain with her mom and surveyed the surrounding peaks and forests from the fire tower at the summit. I’m pleased to report that the landscape remained fire-free. This time, anyway.