What NOT to do when your smoke detector goes off

With all the news about wildfires destroying millions of acres each year, I’ve been hyper focused on how to handle evacuations and grabbing my go bag. I haven’t thought about what to do if I had a fire inside the house. That’s why when my smoke detector went off in the hallway yesterday, I immediately grabbed a stool to silence it. After all, for the past 40 years, my only interaction with my smoke detector was replacing the battery when it would beep or pulling the batteries out when I accidentally burnt garlic bread in my oven causing smoke to set it off.

But this time, I actually did have a fire inside my house.

When the first smoke alarm screeched an annoying siren, I pressed the button to disarm it. But it kept beeping. So I pulled the batteries out, but oddly, it kept beeping. Then 4 other smoke alarms went off in different parts of the house; the noise was loud. The dogs started to howl while Rob, my husband, and I were racing around trying to disarm the alarms.

We didn’t think there was a fire because we didn’t see any smoke and didn’t smell a fire.

We did smell an unusual odor (not the familiar wood fire) and began to see light gray smoke near the ceiling. Rob followed the smoke into the gift wrap room where he saw flames creeping up the wall from the carpet. He grabbed satin cloth and put out the fire.

One of the batteries in a headlamp charger exploded causing small embers to spray across the carpet. It probably smoldered there for a few minutes before igniting. We were lucky that we caught it before it caught the wrapping paper on fire.

When I told Nicole, my oldest daughter, about the series of events, she was quick to say, “Everything you did was absolutely wrong!” And she was right. She asked why we were so intent on stopping the sound instead of looking for the possible fire.

I had become so accustomed to dealing with annoying batteries in smoke alarms and airing out the house when my garlic bread burnt. I learned how to disarm the smoke detector because I never believed that I would actually have a fire in my house. I forgot to first check the scene to see if it was safe.

I’m sharing this story with you so you don’t make the same mistake I did. When your smoke detector goes off, first assess the situation to make sure that there is no fire before pushing that silence button. The sooner you find the fire, the less damage it will cause. I learned this the hard way.

Wow–that was scary. Thank you for the reminder. That is a powerful lesson. It reinforces my practice to do any battery recharging on a non-flammable surface. We usually use a metal table on a tile floor. Now I need to include an explosion zone…

I like the idea of a non-flammable surface! Not sure what to do about battery explosions…

Thanks for sharing this Susan. I now have a whole new perspective where we charge batteries.