My wife and I went to sleep on Sunday night with a portable air conditioner running, I was wearing a CPAP mask, and the bedroom door closed. My cell phone ringer was silenced, as I had an unusual Monday off from work. We went to sleep fulling intending to sleep in. That did not turn out as expected. A little after 5 am, we would be startled awake by flashlights and yelling from inside our house. A smoke detector in my basement malfunctioned.
4:26 am: the smoke detector set off the home security system. We did not hear the alarm because of the closed door, CPAP, and air conditioner.
4:27 am: the security company called to verify the alarm. We did not hear that either, due to my phone being set to silent.
4:39 am: the fire department arrived at our home.
5:11 am: We are startled awake by yelling and lights in the hallway. I instinctively reach for the quick access gun safe on my nightstand, until I realize that they are not intruders but are in fact firefighters. Now I am started for different reasons.
Once I am awake enough to communicate, the firefighters explained the alarm from the basement. I escorted them into the basement. We checked all the alarm sensors; smoke detector, glass-break, and entry sensors. There was no fire. There were no dangerous gasses. Everything was okay. A false alarm, thankfully.
Now, other questions begin to come to mind. How did all these people get into our house? What damage am I going to have to repair? As I am thanking the firefighters and walking them to the door, one offered to replace the window screen he took out while gaining entry. I replied that was not necessary.
Once the crowd was gone, we made some coffee and began to investigate. We checked the second-floor bathroom window the firefighters used to gain access. The undamaged screen had been carefully placed next to the unbroken window. Leaving the bathroom, the firefighters had to pass through my wife’s pet bunny room. The pet gate was closed keeping the bunnies contained. The firefighter actually took the time to close the pet gate behind himself.
There was no damage anywhere. I replaced the screen and we sat down to review video doorbell recordings.
The firefighters had pressed the doorbell repeatedly. They knocked on the door with both hands and feet. They searched everywhere for a hidden spare key.
To the firefighters and police who responded this was probably just another annoying false alarm. To my wife and me, Monday was an incredibly stressful but enlightening experience. Fortunately, it was just a faulty smoke detector, but it could have been a life-altering or life-ending disaster. My wife and I have always had respect for first responders, but the group in Bellefonte has elevated that respect to new heights. They were on our front porch in less time than it takes me to be capable of forming coherent sentences in the morning. They were quick, thorough, professional, and refreshingly courteous.
I learned two important things that morning. First, put the extra alarm siren in our bedroom. Second, the all-volunteer firefighters of Bellefonte Pennsylvania are impressively courteous. A broken window, broken lock, or broken door would have been expected, but these volunteer professionals took a ladder to the back of our house to an open window and didn’t even damage a screen.