About 10 minutes ago, all the smoke detectors went off in my house. Luckily, there was no fire, nor even smoke, but there was plenty of adrenaline.

My house is wired with the type of detectors that are powered by grid power (and batteries) and when one goes off, they all go off. Let me tell you, one fire alarm is loud, many fire alarms is deafening.  My ears are still ringing, literally.

The trigger point was the detector in my home office, which I was currently in when it went off. I haven’t determined what set off the alarm yet, though I suspect it might be a small bug crawling around inside.

When the first alarm went off, I wasn’t sure what it was.  It took about 2 seconds to realize that it was the fire alarm. Looking back, that first beep or two may have been the UPS that I have in the office that protects the computer equipment. If it was, then the house may have been hit with a surge, though I don’t know if that can cause a false alarm.  Also, if the first beeps were the UPS, that would explain why I didn’t immediately recognize the beeping as a smoke detector.

Once I realized that it was the fire alarms, I first checked the room I was in, then, finding nothing, I ran out of the office to the next room, turning on all the lights looking for smoke. I had two things in mind, check on the kids and find the fire so I knew which escape routes were blocked. When I checked one of my children’s rooms, one of the things that I made sure of was that they were in their bed. I wanted to make sure I know where everyone was at.

Being a light sleeper, my wife was up immediately. Finding no smoke, I decided to run downstairs to see if I could find the source, as I couldn’t see or smell any smoke at all. As I ran down the stairs, I shouted instructions to my wife, like keep checking for smoke and fire and turn on all the lights. I didn’t have to tell her to keep an eye on the kids, as I knew that would be her #1 priority.

In about 15-20 seconds, I had all of the downstairs rooms checked and was down-right perplexed. I’ve never been in a fire (thank God), but assumed that when the alarms went off, it would be obvious as to why. This was not obvious. 

Luckily, this was a false alarm, but it gave me some insight.  Here’s what I learned (not in any order):

  1. My kids are really sound sleepers. I am no longer going to worry about having the TV too loud or talking around them when they’re sleeping. All three of them slept right through it. 
  2. I wasted time turning on lights. I could check a room faster than I could find the light switch, which actually slowed me down. A better solution is to have *bright* flashlights in key places where I spend most of my time so I can grab one fast (kitchen, office, bedroom, etc.). This is also important for if there was no electricity. Normally, I do keep a flashlight right here on my desk, but I recently took it camping and haven’t put it back yet (already rectified).
  3. I want more fire extinguishers; preferably, one in every room. We keep one upstairs in the master closet, but it would take too long to get it if I really needed it. I think one in every room (closet or corner) is more pragmatic. In fact, it would probably be worth it to also keep a flashlight with each extinguisher. 
  4. I didn’t remember how the fire alarms worked. Once I determined that it was a false alarm, I couldn’t shut them off. The smoke detector that was triggered was the one whose LED was flashing red. It’s not a bright flash, but it was red and the others were green. In order to shut down the alarms, I *had* to press the button on the alarm that first went off. Seems logical and easy sitting in my chair now, and I’m sure that’s exactly what I thought when I first learned how they worked years ago. I probably even said to myself, ‘oh, that’ll be easy to remember because it makes sense.’ However, when you suddenly have gallons of adrenaline pumped into your system, knowing that the lives of your family depend on your swift action, it all comes down to gross motor skills, muscle memory and training. I hadn’t reviewed the operation of the smoke detectors in a long time and consequently, those finer details were not accessible. Extrapolate this to using a gun for protection (hint: practice, practice, practice).
  5. I can still move pretty fast for an ‘old guy’ – adrenaline is a wonderful thing. As a kid, I was taught to make a decision; right, wrong or indifferent – make a decision and take action, no lollygagging. If your decision was wrong, take immediate corrective action and get on with it. It was difficult learning this growing up, but now, having the ability to make split-second decisions in an emergency is priceless.
  6. After this live run-through, I’m having serious doubts about whether I’ll be able to move important items out of the house in time (AFTER the rest of the family is safe. of course). I’ll have to do some serious re-considering on how and where to store critical items. I want to be able to ‘rescue’ certain items and in this order: 1) Family, including dog, 2) Critical living/survival items (wallet [ID, money, credit cards, etc.], clothing, car keys, important docs, Fast Pack, etc.), 3) Critical data items (laptop, backup hard drives, backup optical discs, etc.), 4) Any other survival/preparedness items if there’s time.
  7. Fire drills can only go so far. They can’t reproduce a true fight or flight response necessary to gain insight from the right perspective. We have talked about what to do in a fire, several times and showed the kids what the alarms sound like (not like they woke up to it or anything). It’s nothing like when you think it’s the real thing and lives are at stake. But, the training and practice did serve a purpose, as I was running over that in my head as I was doing everything else.

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