Smoke alarms are… alarming. 

I know – GREAT headline. Here’s the thing: I was awakened this morning at around 6:00 to the faint sound of a smoke alarm in the unit adjacent to us. No big deal, could be someone burning breakfast. When the alarm didn’t stop after about five minutes I began to worry. I woke my wife up and let her know what was going on. I felt the wall – cool to the touch. I felt the ceiling (in case it was in the attic) – cool as well. Next up? go outside and check around the complex. No smoke/fire apparent there. I next rang a neighbor’s doorbell, she works for the complex, maybe she has a key. No answer. Now I can hear at least two (maybe three? four?) smoke alarms going off. A problem arises. Of the 8 units in my building, I don’t know which door goes to the upstairs unit or the downstairs unit. I peeked thru a window of a lower unit (the blinds were open, so I guess I wasn’t peeking) – the tenant was up and about, getting ready for work. The alarms didn’t seem to be bothering her (strange).

At this point, with smoke alarms clearly going off and no one else doing anything, I called the fire department. The operator asks if I’ve seen fire or smelled smoke. I tell her no. Less than 3 minutes later, 4 fire trucks and an suv roll into the complex, sirens wailing. I stood outside (in clothes appropriate to the incident, a ratty tee-shirt, old cargo shorts, and a dirty hat – just what one would see on T.V. when a reporter quizzes a resident about a blaze) and pointed out where the noise was emanating.

See any smoke or fire?” one of the firemen asks.

Nope – the alarm’s been going off for about 10 minutes though.” The firemen walk around the building, studying its structure. I step back into my uint, suddenly chilled from the morning air. I’m beginning to feel a little sheepish. Was it just a false alarm? Was I over-reacting?

About 10 minutes later, all but one of the fire trucks pack up and leave. It is apparant a fire is nowhere to be found. The last truck idles as its driver takes a report from the tenant in the apartment next to me. He’s filling out some sort of report with a standard form on a clipboard. I wonder if he found anything?

A few minutes later, the last truck leaves. The funny thing? I can still clearly hear 2 smoke detectors wailing away next door. They never stopped. Now I’m thinking its a maintenance issue. I call up my apartment complex manager and get her voicemail.

Hi there, this is the tenant in 6-2-B… the fire trucks that came in this morning were my fault – the smoke alarms in the apartment next door were going off and when I hear smoke alarms I think fire.

“The fire trucks are gone, but the smoke alarms are still going off so I assume this is some sort of maintenance issue and not an emergency. They’ve been going off for about 45 minutes straight. Please give me a call when you find out what’s going on so I don’t keep thinking about this all day. I’m not going in to work until either the alarm turns off or you give me a call. I was taught to treat a smoke alarm seriously way back in elementary school, so its hard to ignore. Thanks.”

I hung up the phone. An hour later, the smoke alarms finally fell quiet. I still have no idea what happened this morning, but it sure was annoying. I feel much more at ease knowing that if there ever is a fire in the complex our firemen will be there in under 3 minutes. That’s pretty cool.

So, did I over-react? Part of me feels like Steve Martin in “The Jerk”, part of me feels like an over-sensitive asshat neighbor. What would you have done?