It's like a cricket chirping every twenty-five seconds. After I've counted, I begin to question how quickly I counted. I recently learned that when administering CPR, the counting should be done at a fairly fast pace: thousandone, thousandtwo, thousandthree, thousandfour...but when I count the seconds between the dying smoke alarm's insistent beep, I find myself fluctuating between the thousand count and the "Mississippi" count. Which is more accurate? By my count, the smoke alarm chirps every twenty-five-Mississippi seconds. My husband has done battle with the smoke alarm three times this week, plugging and unplugging it. Ordinarily, I'd say "Let's just change the batteries," but our smoke alarms don't have batteries. They're wired like the rest of the house is wired.
Our 9-year-old American Eskimo barks, every twenty-five seconds, too, while standing in front of my husband, impatiently asking him to do something about the alarm. Make it stop! He barks, his little pointy ears raised high, his squeaky voice whining. He began his complaints by standing in front of me first, quickly realized I knew nothing about smoke alarms, and altered his attention to Huz.
I have unintentionally tested our smoke alarm once every year since I've lived here. I believe that might be what they say the standard is, though I haven't looked that bit of information up yet and I think the test is supposed to be intentional.
My most recent foray into testing the alarm happened last summer, just as the school year was ending. I was standing in the kitchen, browning some garlic in a small puddle of oil on our electric stove when my dad called. I'd been waiting for his call all day and the stove was on medium, the garlic just added. When he asked me to go seek a piece of information from my desk in the room at the other end of the house, I placed my wooden spoon on the counter and padded down the hall with the dogs in tow. Out the window, the lawnmower rumbled and the scent of fresh cut grass glided in through the open window. After sifting through some folders and papers, I found the article my father wanted and nestled back into the chair to read off the information...slowly, so he could write it down, repeating myself when he asked, tucking the paper back into the files in my desk and shutting the drawer behind it. When I approached the kitchen again, my father was saying his good-byes and billows of smoke rushed toward me in the open living room-dining room-kitchen space I'd departed only minutes earlier. Before my father finished, I hit the "End Call" button, tossed the phone into the folds of the couch and started toward the stove that suddenly emitted a burst of flames from the pot. Electric fire...what's the rule for electric fire? I panicked, stepping back from the stove. Dustin! I decided, was my best solution.
Once out the screen door, I flailed my arms as he pushed the mower in my direction. "Dustin! Hurry! Come quick!" I shouted, moving my arms in fast beckoning motions, as if my sign language might provoke a greater sense of urgency than yelling, "FIRE!" The door slammed behind me when I was certain he was coming. He took his time and smoke alarms all over the house rang out in chorus just as he entered the front door. Dustin's face dropped from expectant amusement to shock as he ran into action, grabbing the cover of the pot, squelching the fire and turning off the heat in two swift motions. The smoke alarm continued and we sent the dogs out into the yard, opened the windows and screen doors before stationing ourselves with fanning materials beneath the two raging alarms. It must've taken five minutes for us to calm the alarms and longer than an hour for the smoke to evacuate the house.
If it hadn't been for my husband, who knows what I would've done. The fire extinguisher, though only two feet away from the stove in the pantry, was a forgotten memory when the flames licked the sides of the pot. It's a wonder nothing...including the walls, cabinets and countertop, was scorched...but at least we knew the smoke alarms worked.
Now, as Dustin stands on a chair and fiddles with the wires under the close supervision of Bogey, I find myself hoping he knows as much about smoke alarms as he does about how to quelch a fire. If not, my next unintentional test may not go off as successfully.