The other day both my sweetie and I were hard at work in the office when the piercing sound of a smoke detector rang in our office. It was not in our place, but somewhere nearby. That happens now and then, of course, but this time the smoke detector did not stop, nor did we hear the inevitable sound of someone cursing at the thing.
The acoustics of our apartment are rather unfortunate; our unit faces another like ours, with a paved driveway between and parking directly beneath our floors. Sounds that occur nearby are amplified and injected directly through our windows. My sweetie and I have learned to be very quiet, which means that our new neighbors on the other side of the cone of loudness probably have no idea that we can hear every word they say. They should be good for a few stories…
Anyway, I went out to see if I could pinpoint the source of the still-screaming smoke alarm. Outside the sound was diminished, but eventually I established that it was indeed coming from the apartment opposite ours, unit six, where our neighbors were still settling in. While I was out there, I ran into the occupant of unit seven, who shares a wall with the screaming unit six. I tested the air and smelled like burning food.
There comes that moment of indecision – it’s probably just something in the oven overcooking. They left the house and were delayed and now dinner is turning into a blackened, crispy, not-very-tasty lump. But they’re new neighbors, and I don’t have a phone number for any of them.
The door onto their little balcony was open. I know because that’s where I first saw smoke coming out. Another of unit six’s smoke detectors joined the chorus. I mentioned that I saw smoke and both the neighbor and my sweetie called the fire department.
The firemen are stationed right around the corner; the list of questions my sweetie had to answer before the call was sent out took about as long as the deployment itself. Shortly the truck pulled up in the street and while one crew began assembling a long hose to reach back to unit six, an advance scout jogged down the driveway. “The door on the balcony is open,” I said. I imagined that if the firemen used a ladder they could spare the neighbor’s front door. (In retrospect, I realize that the fireman was not going to forego causing minor property damage if it meant not having the best possible egress from a burning building.)
The fireman jogged up the stairs and with two sharp whacks from his axe the wood splintered and he was in the apartment. The other crew had a hose laid and partially pressurized when the advance guy reemerged to shout “It’s a pot on the stove!” Then the advance guy plunged back into the smoky and loud apartment.
Then the guy reemerged with a surprise. He had with him Joe, my new neighbor, who had been inside sleeping through the whole thing. It had never occurred to me to, say, knock on the neighbor’s door before calling the fire department. I expect that anyone sleeping through two smoke detectors would not have heard my knock, but sometimes certain sounds get through where others don’t. The fireman never tried the knob to see if the door was unlocked. It probably was locked, but it’s funny the assumptions we make.
Joe was groggy, and a little sheepish. He passed me on the way to get checked out by the firemen and I introduced myself. “I had some beers earlier,” he told me. When the firemen were done with him, he chatted for a bit with the assembled neighbors. Nothing like a visit from the fire department to serve as a neighborhood icebreaker. Joe’s had brain surgery, has been stabbed a couple of times, and various other health crises over the years.
A day later I overheard him say that he had mixed up his medications, and he had put some hot dogs on the stove and fallen asleep. Let this be a lesson to all of you: If you’ve had brain surgery, stay away from hot dogs.
As I type this I hear the sirens and horns as our local firemen (who were very cool) head out on another call. Let’s hope it’s as benign as something charring in the kitchen.