Dave Simpson: My Sad Smoke Alarm Tale Of Woe

Columnist Dave Simpson writes, "At 2:41 am, we were awakened by a full-fledged, ear-piercing, all-hands-on-deck fire alarm, with the recorded voice of a lady yelling, “FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!” Every alarm in the house – 13 of them – was going off, and the dog was in a panic."

Dave Simpson

November 06, 20234 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Guy at exercise says every homeowner has a smoke alarm story.

Some worse than others. Searching in the junk drawer for a nine-volt battery in the middle of the night to stop the chirping. Getting the extension ladder out of the garage, dressed in your pajamas. Touching the wrong button and setting off a full-blown screaming fire alarm.

His story:

He was on vacation when the dog sitter called. The smoke alarms were chirping, upsetting the pets. His solution:

Turn the heat up. Sometimes a warmer temperature will get that last bit of juice out of a battery that is going bad. He swears it worked.

My story: Much worse.

About a month ago, at 2:41 am, we were awakened by a full-fledged, ear-piercing, all-hands-on-deck fire alarm, with the recorded voice of a lady yelling, “FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!” Every alarm in the house – 13 of them – was going off, and the dog was in a panic.

A frantic tour through the house revealed no fire, no smoke. The screaming mercifully stopped after a few chaotic minutes.

A check on the web revealed that smoke alarms – the device itself, not the batteries – need to be replaced every 10 years. Sure enough, ours were put up in 2013.

Things settled down until 5:20 am., when they went off again. Got the two-step out to take the smoke alarms down and took the batteries out, disarming them. But the one in the peak of the living room required my 14-foot extension ladder.

That day I bought nine new smoke alarms and four carbon monoxide alarms, all dual power, for about $300. And an electrician came out to check the wiring to the alarms. That night one in the basement was beeping for some reason, so I took it down. The electrician came back a couple days later and replaced the beeping alarm.

Then about a week later, at 4:41 am, it happened again, with every alarm in the house going off at once.

At this point, having lost my sense of humor, I was ready to take the alarms down with my .44 Special. I was that disgusted. Here we had a dual system, batteries and wired into the breaker box, and we kept getting false alarms. And turning off the switch at the breaker box didn't help, because the alarms use their batteries to communicate with each other. So if one was having a bad night, they all joined in the fun.

They “ping” each other periodically. And I learned that if you turn off the power at the breaker, the carbon monoxide alarms don't work at all.

The final solution was to disconnect the smoke alarms from the wiring to the breaker box. That put an end to the smoke alarms “pinging” each other, and the house-wide alarms if one alarm was faulty. Then I had to connect the four carbon monoxide detectors back to the AC power, but I disconnected the red wire that lets them communicate with each other. So now, none of our alarms are allowed to talk to each other. And if one goes bad, we can probably (knocking on wood here) figure out which one it is, instead of every blasted alarm going off.

Dual power might seem like belt-and-suspenders protection, but the only way the AC power is going to save you is if you've let your alarms chirp their batteries dead, and then you have a fire. Not likely. So now we're battery only with the smokes, but dual power to the carbon monoxide detectors. And no talking to each other.

Still not sure what caused the problem once the old alarms were replaced. (At one point, my wife was texting back and forth with our extremely patient electrician in the wee hours of the night.)

We've been ridden hard and put away wet by our smoke alarms.

A word to the wise: If your smoke alarms are 10 years old, expect to get a full-blown rousting out of bed someday soon. (It always seems to happen at night.)

The dog and I are still skittish, so the 14-foot ladder remains propped against the living room wall.

(We might decorate it for Christmas.)

Dave Simpson can be reached at: DaveSimpson145@hotmail.com

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Dave Simpson

Political, Wyoming Life Columnist

Dave has written a weekly column about a wide variety of topics for 39 years, winning top columnist awards in Wyoming, Colorado, Illinois and Nebraska.