Fire Starter

Let’s talk about smoke detectors, people.

You know those annoying things that start to make semi-regular, high-pitch beeps when you need to replace their batteries. But smoke detectors aren’t invented just to tick us off. They are there for a very good reason. As the name implies, they excel at detecting smoke, and most of us have at least one installed at home. Too much smoke inside your house is usually a very bad thing. You see, you’re absolutely terrible at breathing in thick, black smoke. No matter how many cigarettes you manage to puff through in a day, your lungs won’t magically start to accept smoke as the new O2.

Too much smoke and you’ll die. And dying is not good for you.

When I was a kid, me and my family woke up one night from the sound of a howling smoke detector. The freezer in our basement had caught fire, and the smoke from the fire was filling our townhouse apartment. But thanks to the wonders of the smoke detector, we got out safely, and the fire department saved the day. But who knows what might have happened if my parent’s hadn’t been safety conscious and installed the Magic Round Box? I might have been dead, Anniken would have been married to an alcoholic wife-beater, Vilde would never have been born, and this site would have been run by some other guy who would have posted his incoherent ramblings on an irregular basis.

So this episode with the fire, and the smoke, and the loud, loud beeping, and the fire department and me carrying the nasty smell of an electric fire with me for a month, has kind of stuck with me since. It’s the reason why we have smoke detectors installed on every floor1 of our house. If one of them detects that something is amiss, they all go off, and the fire department is notified immediately. It’s also the reason why when I’m outside and hear a smoke detector crying its loud wails, I try to find out why.

This weekend, I was looking after Vilde while Anniken was away. The kid enjoys playing outside, preferably with other children, so I’d arranged play-dates with some of her friends from her kindergarten on Saturday and Sunday. Since she’s not one to spend any more time than necessary in bed on weekends, we were out of the house pretty early on Saturday morning. Outside on the porch, the sound of a smoke detector could be heard in the distance. So off we went, then, to find the poor fella. The sound was bumping around off the houses in the neighborhood, so finding exactly where it was coming from wasn’t easy. During our search, we crossed paths with a woman who obviously heard the sound as well, but laughed it off as “probably nothing serious” and walked away. “Hey, lady! A smoke detector’s wails are pretty damn serious. It’s as serious as a hole in the head!” is what I would have said had I been a wrench wielding hooligan type of guy. After about ten minutes of crisscrossing, we finally found the culprit. But there was no smoke, and no fire, just a living room smoke detector with some serious health issues. And it exclaimed its final howl just as we found the right house.

On Sunday morning, the same thing happened again: We heard another smoke detector on our way to the play-date. Having perfected our smoke detector detection skills on the previous day, we only used a couple of minutes to find it this time. The sound was coming from a townhouse apartment basement, but we couldn’t smell or see any smoke this time either. Looking inside, it was clear that the apartment was abandoned. It would still be a good idea to check if something was on fire somewhere. A bit further up the road, we spotted two people chatting. Standing outside in their bathrobes, I assumed they were neighbors (or weirdos). I told them about the smoke detector, and asked them if they had keys to the apartment - it’s not unheard of to give a trusty neighbor an extra emergency key. “Nah, they moved out of that apartment ages ago”, answered one of the guys, and casually shrugged it off. “Hey, man! There are three other apartments in that town house, you want them to burn to the ground!? Do you enjoy seeing the world burn!?” is what I would have said had I been a guy with a very short temper who says things like that. When we returned to the apartment, the smoke detector alarm suddenly stopped. It turned out the next door neighbor had somehow managed to get into the basement and ripped the smoke detector apart. No smoke, no fire, just another dud.


I sure hope that the smoke detector doesn’t go the way of the car alarm. Whenever we hear a car alarm, 99% percent of us really don’t give a rats ass. The reason is that back in the days - when people started to get the alarms installed in their cars - they were notoriously unreliable, and would go off for no particular reason other than why the fuck not. The end result was that most people just don’t care when they hear a car alarm, because we all assume it’s just another false alarm. It’s my generation’s Boy who Cried Wolf. Investigating why you hear a car alarm isn’t the most important mission you can have in life. It’s just an inanimate object, after all, and if you should decide to go on an adventure to find the car in question, there is a very good chance you’ll find it with a shattered window and something that the owner had carelessly left inside in plain sight, missing.

But when you hear a smoke detector, at least try to make an effort to find out why its desperately trying to get your attention. You might save a life or two. Just to show you how quickly things can go from bad, to worse, to game over, I’ll leave you with this video. Happy smoke detector hunting!

  1. No, they are not installed on the floor, morons. ↩︎


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