Alarming Encounter

Wednesday, 3:30 pm

Brendan had been out of school for about an hour.  The kids were all scattered around the house playing various things while I worked on a painting project at the kitchen table.  I paused in my painting and called for all the kids to come upstairs for their after school snack.  Just as they all sat down at the table, the smoke alarms sounded throughout the house.

The sound our smoke alarm makes is extremely loud, and quite shrill (as I’m sure most are).  The noise bothers all of my kids, but Brendan most of all.  They all sat cowering in their chairs with their hands stuffed in their ears.  The sound, while irritating, doesn’t usually induce a feeling of panic within me.  Every other time it’s gone off I’ve been able to identify the source of the problem almost immediately (generally when I’m cooking something like bacon which creates a lot of smoke), and therefore know there’s nothing to worry about.  We just turn the alarm off, air out the house and spend the next 20 minutes calming all of the kids.

But in this case I wasn’t cooking.  In fact I wasn’t doing anything that I could think of that should set off the alarm.  So with that in mind I told the kids to sit tight at the table and went on a room by room search of the house trying to determine if we needed to evacuate.  Far as I could tell, nothing.  Once I was secure that the house wasn’t burning down around us I finally turned my attention to the alarm, which was still blaring loudly throughout the house.

The first alarm I attempted to shut off was the one in our basement.  I went there for a couple of reasons.  First, because the last place I had checked for fire was our storage room so it was accessible.  Second, because all of the rooms on my main floor have 9 foot ceilings which makes reaching the alarms slightly more difficult.  I was having trouble reading the tiny little words on the alarm, so I pushed every button and combination of buttons I could think of to try and shut the thing off.  Nothing worked.

By this point I was getting pretty worked up.  After all I had been listening to alarms blaring through my home for the past 10 minutes, I had three children sitting around my kitchen table getting more and more upset with each passing moment, I still had no idea why the darn thing had gone off in the first place, and now it seemed I was not going to be able to shut it off without help.  I didn’t want my kids to see me upset, so I went into my bedroom and shut the door.

The first thing I did was send a desperate text off to my husband to see if he could text me through how to shut off the alarm.  I knew he was in the midst of teaching a class so reaching him was a long shot but I also figured he’d know better than anyone else.  While I waited for his response I got up on our step stool and tried again to shut off the alarm.  And after a few failed attempts, it worked.  As I climbed down off the step stool my phone began ringing.

Matt had excused himself from his duties and called home to make sure everything was okay.  I broke down briefly as I recounted the tale to him, and let him know that everything was under control.  He stayed on the phone with me a minute or two longer, I think to make sure I was really calm.  I had collected myself enough to leave the bedroom and check on the kids.  They were much calmer and happier now that the alarm wasn’t blaring in their ears.  In fact Kaylee had recovered enough to cause me more problems.

Remember what I was doing when this all started?  That’s right I was painting.  I hadn’t cleaned up my paint stuff because I was intending to continue working on my project while the kids ate their snack.  Well, Kaylee decided that she wanted to help me out with the project and had dipped my brush into the green paint and smeared it over pretty much everything.  I began to laugh so hard Matt thought I’d broken down into tears again, and it took a few seconds to get across to him what had happened.  But if the worst that happened as a result of my smoke alarms sounding is that my daughter spilled a little paint, I consider myself quite lucky indeed.  Paint can be cleaned up much easier than houses can be rebuilt.

Finally, almost 30 minutes after I’d originally called the kids upstairs to have their snack I finally got it served.  While they were snacking (and I was cleaning up the paint mess) we had a very open and honest conversation about the incident.  I let them know that I had checked the house thoroughly and that I was 100% certain that we were safe.  Then I talked to them about what to do if there had really been a fire.  What worries me most is that if a fire would start in the middle of the night the kids bedrooms are across the house from mine.  Depending on where the fire was, I could cut off from reaching them through the house.

They know (or at least the boys do) that if their bedroom door is hot they need to get out through their window.  Brendan was concerned about the screen on the window and I told him if there is a fire that I would not be upset if he broke it in order to get out of the house.  That seemed to make him feel a little better so I bravely made a blanket statment that in the event of a fire he can break anything he needs to in order to escape the house (I really hope that doesn’t end up biting me in the butt…)  We’ve also taught them that if they don’t see daddy and I in the yard that they should immediately go to our next door neighbors house and wake her up.

We hope the situation never comes up.  But at least now, if it does I have confidence that my boys have the tools to handle the situation.  Whether they’ll remember anything we’ve taught them in the moment of crisis remains to be seen.  All we can do now is wait, and pray we never have to find out.

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