LOVELY SOUNDS IN
THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT
I was lying in bed a few nights ago and checked the clock. It
was 3 a.m. and I was wide awake. Since I had already solved all the world's
problems, I began thinking about what subject I could tackle for this week's
I had nothing. My deadline was fast approaching and I had no
inspirations. I began wracking my little brain to come up with some topic
that would be of interest to someone, somewhere.
That's when that excruciatingly irritating little chirp from
one of our smoke alarms began going off every 30 seconds.
Bingo. A message from the Column Gods. Go with it, young man,
and you're welcome.
Before I begin my tirade against smoke alarms, let me make one
thing very clear---smoke alarms save lives. In 1975 only 10% of households
had smoke alarms, compared to over 95% today. The death rate is less than
half from house fires with working smoke alarms than those homes with no
smoke alarms or non-working smoke alarms.
So I'm all for working smoke alarms. And I have no problem with
the ear piercing shrill siren that scares the bejeezus out of you when you
burn the toast and the alarm knowingly goes off. That could save my life and
my family's life someday.
No, my problem with smoke alarms is when the battery needs to
be replaced, or there is some other minor malfunction. WHAT'S WITH THE
What evil, demented person came up with that sound? And who
orchestrated the conspiracy? There are plenty of different styles of smoke
alarms on the market, and they all have that irritating chirp. Couldn't some
manufacturer come up with a different version?
A wave crashing would be nice. Or a foghorn. Or maybe a guitar
strum or even the fluid sound of a clarinet. There are hundreds of sounds
that would remind me that the battery needs to be changed. Anything but a
And why every 30 seconds or so? Do they think my attention span
doesn't last more than 30 seconds and I need a reminder that soon? And why
does it always start chirping in the middle of the night? Maybe that's not
the manufacturer's fault, but I'm throwing it in there, anyway.
I've had a running battle with smoke alarms all my life. If
eliminating the chirp was always as simple as changing a battery, like a
flashlight, perhaps I wouldn't be on this rant. But it is quite often never
Some of my battles have ended badly, with the wires that
connected a once functioning smoke alarm dangling sadly from the ceiling,
where the smoke alarm once stood gallantly, protecting us all. That was
before it started chirping every 30 seconds and wouldn't stop, even after
changing the battery.
That one was hard wired, with a battery backup. Few things in
life are worse than hearing that chirp mocking you after you've tried six
different ways to get it to stop. That's when I ripped it out of the
ceiling, right before I was about to go completely insane.
Other battles end better. If the smoke alarm is not hard wired,
changing the battery usually, but not always, works. That's assuming you
have a 9 volt battery hanging around when it starts chirping at 3
a.m. Naturally, that is seldom the case, so unless you
want to run to a 24 hour store, you're forced to try and sleep through that
incessant chirping until daybreak.
Of course, this can all be avoided if you're wise enough, and
anal retentive enough, to test your smoke alarms every month, as instructed
by the manufacturer. You should also change the batteries ever year,
in order to avoid the 3 a.m. chirp.
That is great advice, and perhaps when I become mature I will
heed it. In the meantime, I will be more like a normal person and wait for
the chirping to begin before taking action.
My only wish is that a manufacturer come up with some noise to
replace the chirp. As far as I know, there is no federal law requiring a
battery-low warning on smoke alarms to be a chirp, nor a requirement that it
chirps every 30 seconds, thereby causing severe emotional distress.
I understand the sound needs to be something that promotes
action. But I'd like to think of a smoke alarm as my friend, and when it
chirps I pretty much want to destroy it. There's got to be a better way.