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COLUMN: An alarming trend is developing in the wee hours

End of Daylight Saving a good time to replace batteries in smoke, CO detectors

Benjamin Franklin’s list of life’s certainties is famously short – just the two items.

Thanks to modern technology, it may finally be time to add one more, right there below death and taxes.

Less succinct, but equally irrefutable, is that any alarm with a dying battery will only loop you in to the situation between the hours of 1 and 4 a.m.

I don’t make the rules; I just gather the data.

The first incident I can recall happened when I was home from college on a break. My mom had just downsized into a rental apartment, so it was anyone’s guess when the smoke detector had last been attended to.

At some point in the wee hours, the wailing began.

After diligently checking for any sign of smoke, we turned our sleep-addled brains to the squawking plastic disc hardwired into the ceiling. If it had a backup battery, we certainly couldn’t find it.

Because none of us make our best decisions on three hours of sleep, that’s when the scissors came out.

One by one, we cut each wire. Bad luck or built-in redundancies, I don’t know, but I do remember that peace was only restored once the very last wire had been snipped.

The building manager was … unimpressed.

So much worse, though, were the events of a night several winters ago when I awoke around 3:30 a.m. to the ear-splitting scream of my building’s fire alarm. I pulled on a coat and shoes and left the building via my patio through the kitchen door.

After standing alone on the icy sidewalk for about five minutes, it dawned on me that no one else was coming outside. Numerous false alarms over the years (yes, always in the middle of the night) had led to a bit of complacency among residents, but still – nobody?

Back inside, I opened the door to the hallway to discover the fire alarm was not, in fact, sounding. The obnoxious shriek echoing up and down the corridor was coming from my suite – specifically from the security system I’d inherited with my condo, but never used.

At some point, I’d seen the alarm code scrawled inside a user’s manual left behind by the previous owner. After several frantic minutes spent digging fruitlessly through drawers, blind panic gave way to desperation.

I marched up to the squalling speaker, grabbed it with both hands and ripped it out of the drywall – Incredible Hulk-style – leaving a jagged hole about four inches across. I’m confident that if I’d been called upon to lift a car off a child at that point, I could have done it.

The next day’s apologies to my neighbours were met with varying degrees of graciousness, but the ones who heard me crying and swearing over the alarm that night were by far the most forgiving.

A more recent – though arguably less dramatic – episode began with a telltale low-battery chirp at 1:34 a.m. on a Tuesday this past September.

After lying in bed for a while, counting out the 36-second intervals between chirps and hoping it would somehow miraculously stop, I got up and grabbed a fresh 9-volt battery, climbed my little step ladder and unscrewed the alarm cover. This one, too, was hardwired, but at least the battery compartment was obvious. Getting it open – well, that was another matter.

After several minutes of poking and prodding, searching unsuccessfully for a way in, I gave up, taped three Band-Aids in a stack over the tiny speaker, stuffed in earplugs and went back to bed.

A quick YouTube tutorial in the morning sorted things out and, I’m happy to report, it involved neither scissors nor feats of super-human strength.

By the way, Daylight Saving Time ends on Nov. 7. That’s one of the days recommended for replacing batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to ensure they remain in good working order and help keep everyone in your household safe.

Take a minute now to figure out how to do it and, with any luck, it’ll be just the death and taxes that keep you awake at night.

Brenda Anderson is editor of the Peace Arch News.

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Brenda Anderson

About the Author: Brenda Anderson

Brenda Anderson is editor of the Peace Arch News.
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