False Alarm

As I went to bed last night just before midnight, my thoughts were of finally leaving this seemingly months-long February behind. In mere minutes, I would be safely delivered into the caring bosom of March, and leave this awful winter behind, climatologically if not astronomically. The only trick left was to make it safely through the night and wake up on the right side of the dirt in the morning.

It was a close call.

At 6:11AM, the smoke detectors started going off. At least I know it was the smokes now – at the time, all I knew was the back-up alarm on the truck I was driving in my dream was REALLY loud and annoying, and for some reason my wife’s voice was mixed in with it. When I finally came to, I threw off the covers and started moving. My son was up and moving too, neither of us with our glasses on, and we both stumbled down the stairs with squinty faces and sleep stiff legs. To me, everything looked foggy – or was that a light smoke condition in the house?

Hard to say, but our noses couldn’t detect anything amiss.┬áThe smoke detectors were still screaming their “Temporal-Three” alarms all over the house, and by now I could hear my daughters upstairs with my wife. I was standing under the first-floor detector, a combo smoke and carbon monoxide unit, which has had a habit lately of alarming when you even think about burning toast or boiling water. I waved a towel around at it, and it silenced. Nice.

My son and I, now fully adrenalized and awake but still half-blind, checked the rest of the house and declared it clear. I took down the detector and removed the battery – the date code on the back is October of 2006. Not really that old, but I’d imagine with the wood stove that the detector chamber has accumulated its fair share of dust in seven years. Nonetheless, it’ll be replaced today.

A rude awakening, and a fantastic start to my post-February 2014. As always, I try to take a little learning away from even the most trivial of events, and there are a few observations here. First, everyone woke up. That’s not a little thing – my experience with kids is that high-pitched noises don’t seem to rouse them. When we first built the house, and the two oldest were still quite young, the intrusion alarm falsed in the middle of the night – bad motion sensor. They didn’t budge. So I did a little hacking and put strobe lights in the light fixtures in the bedrooms, and tied them in with the alarm system. It was actually quite a righteous hack, if a bit outdated now. They seem to be old enough to respond to alarms now.

Second, waking up like that and needing to function effectively is really difficult. There’s a reason SWAT teams break down doors in the middle of the night to serve “no-knock” warrants for parking tickets and the like – the chances of the homeowner being coherent enough to mount a defense are smaller. You’ve got to sleep sometime, though. Something to keep in mind.

Also, the family did a pretty good job working as a team to make sure everything was safe. My son and I cleared the house and the girls stayed upstairs. I doubt I’d want to use this approach in a home-invasion scenario – that’s more of a shelter-in-place situation anyway – but knowing where everyone is and what they’re doing is important in these situations.

Finally, as I was checking out the house, I stumbled upon my collection of bug-out buckets, partially complete on the family room floor. I just got the last bits to complete the project yesterday, and the irony of possibly being forced to evacuate the house in our sleep clothes when it’s five below zero while our nicely crafted emergency supply buckets burned to a crisp inside was not lost on me. Looks like I’ll be finishing another project this weekend.

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