No Kidding: Change the Battery

With snow flying outside, at 5.45 a.m. today all the smoke alarms in our house began beeping in a way that seemed extra loud.  My wife, son, and I threw on some clothes and rushed into the hallway upstairs to check for smoke. Nothing. My wife sped over to the other half of the house that we share with her parents to see what was going on there.  They couldn’t smell anything unusual. After about ten minutes and after we had been through the house from attic to cellar, the alarms went quiet. Strange. We wondered if a perking radiator had heated up something close to it or if steam had set off an alarm. Thirty minutes later the beeping started again, and this time it did not stop. I called the non-emergency phone number of the police department (I didn’t want to call 911 for this) and explained the situation. In five minutes, a fire engine and two fire fighters were at our front door. We walked them through the house, looking for a problem. We checked the electrical box in the cellar. The beeping would not stop even when we flipped the breaker to off. Once the alarm goes on, it stays on. Finally, one of the fire fighters noticed that a smoke detector in the attic on my in-laws’ side was flashing red, meaning the battery was bad. We have a hard-wired system with battery back-up. (There are small green and red indicator lights on each device.) That was the culprit. He pulled the dead battery out and all the alarms stopped. When the battery in any detector runs down, the whole system is activated as a notice to change the battery. In the meantime, we had called Crowe & Sons Electrical Corporation on Middlesex Street because their staff had installed the system. Amazingly, an electrician showed up in minutes, while the fire fighters were still in the house.

I want to say a public thank you to the Lowell Fire Department and the Crowe company for outstanding service. We will change the batteries in all twelve of the smoke detectors immediately. The fire fighters suggested changing batteries every six months or at least once a year. Lesson learned.

5 Responses to No Kidding: Change the Battery

  1. kosta says:

    Forgive me for my “chuckle”. But the same thing happened with us this past year. With us, once the alarms began ringing, they kept ringing until the batteries were removed from all the alarms. It took hours of experimenting to get that far. Do they encourage us calling the fire department for things like this. And of course months before putting in new batteries. After incidents such as this – I think that people “now-a-days” lack life skills – such as “how/when to change an alarm battery”. One hundred years ago, one would know everything needed for practical living – or know a relative or friend who knew of that particular problem. Of course, they didn’t have fire alarms back then – life was simpler, if more dangerous.

  2. Miran says:

    Funny to read this today. The battery in one of ours died this morning at 1am, so we just went through the same thing. We usually change them each time we change the clocks, but forgot to in the fall. Ugh!

  3. Joe S. says:

    That’s a lousy system – it should be able to give you a battery indicator separate from an alarm. The detectors that I am familiar with will give off a low level audio alarm to alert that a battery is low, and not to be confused with an actual alarm.

  4. Jason Strunk says:

    This happens regularly and we ( at LFD) respond for them anytime we are called. Basically “If you don’t know what to do call the fire department” has kind of become a general rule and there is nothing wrong with that. I would rather respond and correct one faulty detector or low battery than have you disable the whole system and need to respond when the house is on fire and people are still inside sleeping. As Joe stated, some detectors do have a chirping alert that sounds, for lack of a better way to say it, like an intermittent cricket. Unfortunately most people ignore that sound until it becomes too late. Some models don’t offer this feature.

    Something else that should be noted, In addition to changing the batteries, detectors do have a shelf life. It varies from model to model, but the detectors also need to be replaced. A good rule of thumb is every ten years but consult with your manufacturer’s recommendations to be sure. We also are seeing a large number of response for low carbon monoxide detector batteries since the implementation of that legislation. In those cases people are still unfamiliar with the detectors and don’t know the difference between the signals. CO detectors have a shorter life than smoke detectors so there will likely be an influx of those alarms about 7 years after the law was implemented as the detectors wear out. Again, when in doubt check with the manufacturer and if you need us, the fire department is there to help. That’s what you pay for.

  5. Joe S. says:

    As Jason points out, at least some units have a separate low battery alarm. I think all should have a similar system to avoid the unnecessary emergency calls. My last CO detector issued a similar alarm so I changed the battery – to no avail. It was time to replace the detector itself – that alarm was another good feature of the unit.