Where There’s Smoke

by Rachel on August 19, 2010

Tuesday night, Eric and I were watching “Californication” on DVD at my apartment, and, suddenly, the life of Hank Moody was drowned out by a high-pitched, violent shriek. At first I thought it was just one of the girls that Hank was accidentally going down on, but then I realized it was not the result of the cunning linguist. It only took me a few seconds to figure out what it was. Sure, the last time I heard that sound I was high, naked, and half-asleep in a flat in Edinburgh, Scotland, but I’d recognize the sound of a smoke alarm anywhere. Thankfully, I was much less disoriented this time around. And dressed.

The thing about the sound of a smoke alarm is that it causes you to panic, simply because it’s so loud, mean, and urgent. Even if it’s a fire drill and you know it’s coming, you still freak. And even though we knew on some level that my apartment was not on fire and that there was no reason for this, we still leapt up and started shouting and screaming directions and theories. After about 30 seconds, the thing mercifully just shut itself off. So we went back to “Californication” and eventually to bed.

We had been in bed for about 30 minutes when the chirping began.

This time, the alarm outside my room was chirping. Not the panic-inducing squeal signaling fire, but the annoying little bleat signaling that it’s time to change the battery. After a few disoriented minutes and talking in our sleep, Eric finally understood my request that he go take the battery out. No lights were turned on; he just stumbled and mumbled his way through my room, grabbing the desk chair on his way. Moments later a very loud “GODDAMNIT!” came from the hall.

I really hate when people hurt themselves while doing favors for me, so I immediately felt bad about what I assumed was a stubbed toe. (Still don’t know.) I turned on the light for him in an attempt to say sorry/thank you. With the light on, he was able to get the alarm pulled off the ceiling and we saw…wires. Apparently, the smoke alarm doesn’t have a battery. It’s just wired to the one downstairs. So that was the one that needed the new battery.

So next we went downstairs — still pretty drowsy — and he pulled and pulled to get the alarm off the rather high ceiling. He finally pulled the battery out and….the chirping continued.

I don’t even know. I don’t even know.

So what else could we do? We went back to bed.

Obviously I was tired the next day.

The whole situation was really stressful. I am just renting a room in this townhouse, and my roommate, the owner, is out of town right now. In China. Not exactly easy to reach. He has a live-in bf but he travels for work. OK. Fine. I could handle this myself. So I stopped on my way home and bought a new 9 volt battery. Annoying errand, but whatever. I so had this.

I got home from work and wanted to eat lunch and relax, but I had to answer it.

So I dragged a chair over and realized…I was about two feet too short to reach the thing.

It chirped as I hunted for a taller chair, a step stool, or a ladder. No luck. It chirped while I went through the emergency numbers trying to find some sort of maintenance line. Nothing. Finally I decided I’d just go to the leasing office. It chirped good-bye as I went out in the 100 degree weather on foot and headed into…what I thought was the leasing office. Turns out, it was the leasing office of a whole different complex. Our townhouses have…no leasing office.

I wandered around the complex looking for a neighbor who might know who I could call. No luck. I was melting, so I just went back to my apartment and listened to it chirping for the next three hours, Googling, trying to find something that would help. I couldn’t. It chirped while I read, while I did Core Fusion, while I worked at my desk. It chirped until finally the guard came on duty. The guard, I figured, might know if there was someone I could call.

So I went to the front gate and chatted with the guard. She said she didn’t know if there was any type of maintenance person, but she gave me the name and number of the property manager to try. I left him a desperate voicemail, hoping the chirping was present in the background.

It chirped while I took a shower and it chirped while I made dinner. It chirped while I packed an overnight bag and headed to Eric’s where I could sleep in silence. It chirped (presumably) while we were hanging out on his turf and the property manager finally called me back.

The property manager said that he couldn’t help me. Because all the units are privately owned, there isn’t any maintenance service for the residents. He said he could give me a ladder. He said he could give it to me right then, if I was there.

I explained that I wasn’t there, because, you know, it had been several hours since I left him the message, and I had finally fled the chirping to take refuge in a quiet apartment for the night. He seemed annoyed that I wasn’t there and kept offering me a ladder.

Even if I had been there…really? A ladder?

I can just imagine just all 5’3 of me carrying that ladder across the complex, around the corner, and up the flight of stairs to the alarm. Sure. A ladder. Totally.

If I accepted the ladder, I’d need someone to help me carry it, and that someone would be Eric. And if he were coming all the way into the city to help me with the ladder, he could just stand on the damn chair again and put the battery in from there, without the hassle of transporting the ladder.

Or so I thought. When Eric heard this he said he could barely reach it from the chair and that yeah, we probably would need that ladder.

I spoke to my roommate this morning and he said that there is a step stool (I must have missed it) and that it’s probably not the battery. He said in the past, just fiddling with the wires has solved the problem.

I have not gone home yet to face this next step in the process. I’m just not ready for the chirping.

I don’t understand how a smoke detector can be so in need of attention. I feel like one of those high school students who is given a fake baby to take care of overnight. Some adult somewhere is laughing at me, I just know it. Actually, a fake baby — or a real baby, for that matter — would probably be less annoying. A fake baby can be returned, and if you ignore it, so what? You get an “A-” and life goes on. And a real baby can be dressed up in funny outfits and fake mustaches and photographed for your own entertainment.

Not so with a smoke detector. Not so at all.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 ashleigh August 19, 2010 at 8:12 am

I can only imagine how annoying that is! It seems like every time I move there is an issue with a crazy smoke alarm. I actually just moved this weekend and had an issue with the one in my new place. I live alone, so I keep the door open whenever I shower, and apparently the steam from the shower sets off my smoke alarm which is so loud you can hear it from the bottom floor (I live on the 3rd). I discovered this after two separate attempts to shower on a Sunday night. I am sure my neighbors loved me that first night :) Now I guess I’ll have to keep the door shut! I hope you or Eric is able to solve that annoying problem!


2 Dori August 19, 2010 at 8:39 am

I can relate. There is a detector in this building (smoke or carbon, I do not know) a floor above me that chirped nonstop. I called maintenance, I even called 311, but no one can help. I heard it all night long when I try to sleep. It made me crazy. So I can relate. And I am sorry that happened to you.

But your pictures and captions kind of make this worth it. I LLOLed.


3 Caitlin August 19, 2010 at 8:40 am

Between this and my GPS and radio in my car, I’d say Texas is giving us some trouble in the electronics department – something we both actually KNOW something about. Ugh, how annoying for you! I really don’t think there is any worse noise than that chirping. Hope you get it fixed soon! Thanks for the laugh.


4 emily August 19, 2010 at 8:45 am

Uggggh! We had something very similar happen when we moved to our new apartment this summer and I’m still sort of pissed about it. Actually, in addition to the needy chirping we also had an issue because the fire alarm went off *every*single*time* you turned the oven on. Apparently the last tennant never turned on the oven?!?! 8 phone calls later our guy finally just ripped the damn thing out of the wall!


5 Rachel's Mom August 19, 2010 at 9:16 am

Anxiously awaiting Part II of this saga.


6 Rachel Marlena August 19, 2010 at 9:39 am

OMG I was annoyed just reading this (not at you, at the smoke detector) so I can only imagine the WTF!? moments you were having. Oh the joys of moving. At least you have Eric’s apartment though! Most of us would have just had to wait it out…doing a cost benefit analysis of killing ourselves then and there.


7 Isha August 19, 2010 at 11:41 am

This reminds me of when my carbon monoxide detector went off and I couldn’t figure out if it was the batteries or the real thing. I took out the batteries so it would stop yelling at me (this was full-on alarm mode, not just chirping) and fell asleep that night with my head on the windowsill so I wouldn’t get poisoned and die. It turned out to be the batteries.

Good luck with yours!


8 Rachel August 19, 2010 at 11:43 am

Ahhh Isha that is really funny! I’d probably do the same thing!!


9 Mil August 19, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Rachel – I had the same exact problem. I followed the guidance below from a website I found and it actually worked. Good luck!

“To reset an AC unit with a battery backup:
Turn off the power to the smoke alarm at the circuit breaker. Remove the smoke alarm from the mounting bracket and disconnect the power. Remove the battery. Press and hold the test button for at least 15 seconds. The unit may chirp or alarm for a few seconds before going silent. Reconnect the power and reinstall the battery. The unit will chirp once when the power is restored and should not chirp afterwards.”


10 Bess August 19, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Okay I LOST my shit at “cunning linguist”.

So glad you showed that chirper whose boss!


11 Ashley August 20, 2010 at 7:43 am

OK so the one thing that grabbed me here? You’re only 5’3?!


12 Rachel August 20, 2010 at 7:50 am

HA — YES! On a big hair day I could probably hit 5’4, but I think definitely people are surprised to meet me. I get a lot of, “Wow, you are…not tall.”


13 Sher August 20, 2010 at 9:00 am

Hilarious! Im Indian and cook a LOT!!! It can be SOOO annoying when the couple downstairs come running upstairs to my apartment and give me “the look” whenever my alarm goes off! Lord – Dont these people cook anything ??? I finally took care of the little bugger too!


14 liane August 20, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Your smoke dectector is clearly conversing with the carbon monoxide detector in my new place. It chirps every hour, like a cuckoo clock.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: