Safety First

Pointless, boring story ahead.

The first man came in the late morning and marked the positions. The second one carried a box with devices and a laptop. He sat on the floor and busily scanned codes in, marked the devices, sorted them and left, remarking that they’d be “scharf” now, loaded. The third hauled a large power drill and fixed the devices, all three in less than seven minutes. He left with a grin and gave me a xerocopied instructional paper.
You may already guessed it, venerated reader, I am talking about smoke detectors that were installed in my rooms. All for safety.
What I do not understand is that these things must be so terribly ugly.


They successfully searched for the ugliest smoke detector available in Europe.
They successfully searched for the ugliest smoke detector available in Europe.


They look like anti-personal-mines.
I chatted with my neighbour who is living in a pretty large appartement. They had six of these things bolted to the ceiling. Also another neighbour some floors up found six of these design disasters decorating her flat. So I wondered when in a friend’s flat of the same design only five abominations were installed. I met laptop man in the lift when he carried a new box of devices and said something along the line that they surely fitted some hundreds in this large appartement house. He was a little upset and complained that he had been told to bring more than 300 of the things, but he only had 200 mounted, at the utmost. If it would have been better organised they’d be at home already.

Yesterday I walked past the janitor’s office, found the door open and him sitting at his desk. I looked, he waved me in, kicked a chair in front of the desk and asked “What’s up ?”
I expressed my astonishment about the not mounted safety device and the lack of coordination. He rolled his eyes and explained that laptop man & friends were clearly instructed to nail a smoke detector at the ceiling of every room that is possibly a sleeping room, and in the exits or hallways (“Fluchtwege”). Of course not in bathrooms and kitchens, obviously. Laptop man decided to install the things only in rooms that right now are used as sleeping rooms. The large room in my friend’s flat is actually used as a bureau – no bed, no smoke detector.
And while they were at it, they ignored the basement level completely (six appartements) and were busily searching for the “Dachgeschoss”, the attic, that is miraculously not built.
There will be another date to fix the mess. It is not clear whether laptop man & friends will do this.
While I sat there I asked him what would happen if I heard such an alarm ? “I mean : Thursday morning, 09:30, I’m back from my morning drive, ready to sleep an hour. All my neighbours are at work or at the university, usually I am alone on the floor. I hear an alarm two doors down. I knock at the door, no reaction. My janitor is not reachable, he has to take care for other objects too, some miles away. Even if you’d be here, you are not allowed to open the door.” “That would be burglary”, he chipped in.
“I call the firefighters. They go in, false alert. Do I pay the operation ?” “Nice question”, he said, “especially because it was not asked before.” “So what does my landlord say ?”
He thought for a minute and told me that if he would ask this in the centre office they’d kick him and tell him to mind his own business. Very nice shop morale.
As he knows his company, they would pass the question to the firefighters.
He pulled out a file card and called the village firefighters, 70something.
No one reachable, even after several tries.
He called the village administration and asked for the number of the force – 70something. And, after complaining that it is useless, he got the number of a portable.
Which is not working. We tried two times : Number not taken, not connected to a customer.
“Better not burn here” he said. “Commander’s out for lunch”, I agreed.
So he called the emergency number.
“Yes, relax, no alarm” – and he told his story and asked the question. Their answer was clear : They are the professional force. If someone calls them they need to know where the emergency is, then they alarm the local force. The local force deals with it and decides whether they need professional help. The cost is not their business, that is between the local force and the local administration. For this village, they call 70something.
“Thank you.”
Two middle-aged blokes with too much time to spare and a telephone.
All in the name of safety, of course.

20 thoughts on “Safety First

  1. One of my neighbours sits in a wheelchair. He gets around in his flat, but it is hard to get up. So he has a history of burning things on the stove plate a bit, lately. When the dumb thing would go off he would not reach it, even with a broom handle. This would not only be smoke & smell, but smoke, smell & “beep”.
    BTW I wonder how these things sound ?
    “Bööääärp” ? Goodness, who designs these sounds ? Can I modify …

  2. Where I used to live there were industrial strength alarms – so loud I’m sure they could be heard five miles away, they were also very hard to stop. I remember them going off one evening, possibly triggered by a spider (there was no fire). I was deafened. My legs went to jelly, and I had to have a stiff drink to recover. Another time the back up battery exploded inside the alarm, which sounded like a shot gun. Another stiff drink was taken. My conclusion is that alarms are bad for you and could turn you to drink.

  3. Smoke alarms are mandatory here in all new buildings and must be wired into the electrical syastem, no more batterys required. For commercial buildings that have “False Alarm” call outs the local fire brigade will sting you $700.00 per call. The Basket ball stadium up the street has a call out at least once a week… It must be costing them a fortune for non fires…
    I agree with you about them being ugly… Perhaps they were meant to come with some sort of decorative cover that the instilation team forgot in all their confusion…

  4. This is like an old British comedy.Tony Hancock, perhaps.
    We have an old battery-operated one on the ceiling in the hall.I don’t think it’s wearing a battery at present.But if/when we sell this house,I think we will have to install the new system,as per princess’ comment.
    I have a story about kitchen fires…when i was a child, in a small village where every house had an open hearth and most also had a coal stove in the kitchen, it was mandatory for householders to have their chimneys swept clean every year.(cost 30 shillings) Any time the firemen (volunteers) were called to a fire caused by an unswept chimney, they would, of course, put out the fire, save any trapped people or animals.And the chief would then say :Squirt it!” and a fireman would send a strong jet of water down the chimney.Dear god! What a mess of wet soot!But that householder always paid the chimney sweep after that!

  5. I agree that they’re not the prettiest things, but they’re useful. It is disturbing that the fire dept numbers don’t work. At least the emergency number works.

    A long time ago, I lived in an old building with an old fire alarm system that went off frequently, lots of false alarms. The fire dept showed up at least once a week to reset the system. Then my last year there, the false alarms happened everyday for a week. On the seventh consecutive day of going off, there was an actual fire! But the fire dept didn’t show up, because they were dealing with another fire! I had to call emergency services and they dispatched the airport fire dept, the nearest available crew, to come put out the fire–way outside their coverage area. Thank goodness they showed up and the fire was put out.

  6. Spiders seem prone to raise alarms, especially when they wander in front of sensible sensors.
    I support your conclusion wholeheartedly, dearest Scarlet !

    The janitor was not happy with the selection of this model, because the battery is sealed. According to the instructions the battery will live for years (?), but when it is empty (or when something else goes bang), there is no possibility to repair the thing. That means they bolted stuff at the ceiling that will turn into garbage within the next 24 months or so.
    I should look at the manual and try to test the apparatus, just to hear the sound of panic, dear LẌ.

    Wire them in is a good idea Princess.
    No, sadly they did not forget something : They look exactly as they came out of the box, and as they are depicted in the manual. And I am prohibited to alter them in any way. Best is to avoid looking at them.

    See, I told you so, dearest Norma.
    The Greek had the ideal of “kalos kai agathos”, the conformity of outer form (beauty, kalos) and (kai) inner “beauty” (agathos). What looks good is also morally good, or better : The complacent and aesthetically pleasant outer form indicates the inner “goodness” and quality of the being or object.
    In this sense, these things are the devil’s toys.

    A stern lesson ! Thirty shilling for a chimney sweep seems not expensive, dearest Dinahmow. So their reaction is quit understandable, a little less avarice would have saved all and everybody. Such a fire was / is totally avoidable.

    I really wonder why this number did not work Eroswings. The local brigade is also responsible for a stretch of autobahn, sadly an accident-prone one. I think they have to go there at least once a week or possibly even more often.
    If the locals could not come the brigade from the next village would be called, the access route would be only five minutes longer I guess.

  7. I have installed them in my house as well. And a CO2 alarm also. I have a gas furnace to heat the house, which is very necessary here in the centre of Canada where we have the same climate as Siberia. (It is -23C right now and feels like -34C, which in F is -9/-29… very brrrrr! no matter which way you measure it!)

    I change the batteries in all my alarms once a year on July 1st, which is Canada Day (my country’s ‘birthday’). It is an easy date to remember and then I never have to deal with exploding or expired batteries. Personally, I wouldn’t live in a house/apartment without them. And yes, they are all very utilitarian in appearance. I have never seen an attractive one. I would worry that the ones that are hardwired in not being functional in the event of a power outage. But they can be life savers and that’s the point, isn’t it?

  8. -23°C – Poor frozen You ! You need a food massage, dearest Ponita !
    I agree, they can be life savers and that’s the point. And yes, my appartement is not the ultimate epitome of tasteful decoration, some call it a cramped book depository. But nevertheless, there must be more attractive solutions available than these ugly plastic thingies. I should design one.

  9. Ours starts to do intermittent chirps when the battery starts to die. Of course, this always seems to happen at 2 or 3 am. Last time in my son’s room. Grr. I agree, alarms drive one to drink, so do kids, nervous pets, spouses and family in general. I’m pretty sure Grandpa Walker was self-embalmed with Scotch.

  10. In my townhouse in a faux-old-west curio city, three of these machines are bolted into the stairwell walls and ceiling. Of the three, I believe one of them is Carbon Monoxide detector. One of these is hanging open with no battery in it. The darn thing refused to reset after trying to replace the battery. BEEP BEEP BEEP! …and I don’t think any of them are wired directly to alert the Police or Fire Services.

    I mention them because one strange thing: the one at the top of the stairs chirps randomly; sometimes when there is discord in the house. Yes, its probably a coincidence but the fact remains that I can’t rely on the machines. We must be “up to building codes” though, because at least they are visually showing compliance.

  11. Cheers Melanie !

    Hello Transdadwhubby, thank You for Your first comment here.
    Perhaps the randomly chirping one is a mood detector made by elfs ?
    It is a sorry state when the promised “safety” is proven to be a “nearly as if”-safety. So in the end it is as usual : The law is satisfied, but that does not guarantee, or even mean, that the purpose is reached.

  12. Ours, which were installed free by the council (well, they offered) had non-replaceable batteries too. And when the battery was low, instead of beeping gently as a warning, it rang out as if for a fire and it was impossible to stop it. I had to drown it in the end. The same thing happened with the second one recently. Tim has now put up new ones – with replaceable batteries and they have a carbon monoxide warning too. Though, now I think of it, this might not be of much use – I’ve a feeling that carbon monoxide is heavier than air, so a sensor on the ceiling might be wise after the event.

  13. You killed the detectors, dearest Z ?! I was told that living on the (English) countryside would be dangerous, but …
    I think you have a good point there. As I remember very early safety instructions about running engines in closed rooms, the deadly gas builds up from the floor because it is heavier than air ; who for what ever reasons has to crouch on the floor or falls down, is in grave danger of suffocating. If CO – be it mon~ or di~oxyde – reaches the ceiling it is all too late.

  14. Pedantic Corner: Carbon Monoxide is lighter than air.

    If I had anything in the house with an open gas flame — fireplace, range, water heater, furnace — I would personally have a Carbon Monoxide detector. One of my cousins and his daughter died of Carbon Monoxide due to a faulty gas heater.

  15. Live and learn ! Thank you for the correction LẌ. Very sorry to learn that you lost family members to this.
    But what was it then that is heavier than air and building up ? I really do not know. It is natural science, chemistry after all, so, excuse me please, obviously nothing I understood.

  16. I do have the detectors – in fact, I have three. And now, looking it up, I find that it doesn’t much matter where you have it in the room because its density isn’t so different from air but, as you say, LX, it’s actually lighter. Like you, Mago, I wonder what I’m thinking of.

  17. Dearest Z – apologies for not having dropped by recently : And very best wishes for a full recovery ! I totally forgot that you had mentioned to visit the hospital this year, I am sorry. I hope all is going well and according to plan.

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