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Malfunctioning Smoke Alarms

Updated on January 13, 2011

Last night at 1:15am we were awakened at the shrill keening sounds of all the house smoke alarms going off. We bolted out of bed. Ted, my husband, turned on the bedside lamp. We were numb with shock and confusion: why in the world would our smoke alarms be going off in the middle of the night?

My first fear was the house was on fire. It took a few seconds to realize that there was not any visible smoke in our bedroom. Ted was already out in the living room. His first thought was that the Christmas tree caught fire. The tree was fine and the room was clear of smoke also.

I wrapped a blanket around me while yelling at the top of my lungs “LUCY COME!” Our black miniature schnauzer, Lucy, came right to me as she has been trained to do whenever the smoke alarms go off. “OUTSIDE LUCY!” was my next command as she and I ran to the back door. Once she was outside and out of immediate danger, I turned back to matters at hand.

Ted was waving a blanket over his head in order to move enough air around the living room to stop the noise coming from the smoke detector. I could not see any smoke in the room nor could I smell smoke. I used the blanket I had wrapped around me and did the same as Ted to the smoke alarm in our bedroom. The smoke alarms shut off! No noise, no smoke .

What caused our alarms to go off?

What in the world was going on? We began a complete investigation of all the electrical plug-ins of the house. We unplugged all major appliances, toaster, night lights, surge protectors for all of the electronic equipment (TV, computers, Christmas lights, etc.)

The Smoke Alarms went off again.

Now we were scared! Something was triggering the alarms. Ted turned on the house fan and I turned on all ceiling fans to move as much air as possible throughout the house. Ted went outside to inspect the perimeter of the house and the crawl space under the house where our well computer panel is located. All outside was secure! Neither smoke nor heat!!

Once again, the smoke alarms went off. After succeeding in shutting them off once again by waving the blankets around the detectors, Ted told me to get dressed immediately. He went back outside to get the truck out of the garage so we would be able to leave our property quickly if needed. Lucy started yipping when she saw the truck coming out of the garage. She wanted to go also. He picked her up and tossed her in the back seat of the truck. She was secure and out of the intense cold weather.



Ted was talking to the 911 dispatcher when I came out of the bedroom with our personal belongings. He was telling the dispatcher what had happened, what we did to try to quiet the alarms, the inspection of all things electrical and an outside perimeter check.

“Help is on the way,” said the 911 dispatcher. She alerted the local fire department to come to our home with specialized equipment that could detect hot spots inside walls, attics or under the house. The fire truck and crew arrived within 5 minutes of Ted’s phone call.

The firemen had this type of thermal imaging unit  searching for hot spots inside the walls.
The firemen had this type of thermal imaging unit searching for hot spots inside the walls. | Source

The firemen did a complete and thorough search of all walls inside the house with their thermal imaging equipment. They investigated the fuse box panel and the hot water tank located within our closet. They walked the perimeter of our home twice and they inspected under the house. They could not find a single hot spot. We were out of danger of a house fire.

They did indicate two things that could have caused the alarms to sound off:

1. A temperature inversion outside had trapped smoke close to the ground. Homeowner’s in our neighborhood had lit their fireplaces for extra warmth even though there is a temporary burn ban in effect. The acrid smoke was heavy around the outside of our home. Probably some of the smoke seeped into our house and set off the alarms.

2. When asked if we could remember the last time we changed the batteries in the smoke alarms, we had to say NO; we could not remember. Smoke Detectors should have their batteries replaced at least twice a year. After the fire department crew left, we replaced the batteries in our alarms.

What we should have done!

1.       Have an escape plan!   We didn’t have one last night thus the confusion but we will for the future. 

2.       Keep the batteries in the smoke detectors current.  We didn’t before last night but will from now on.

3.       Keep fire extinguishers available and know how to use them.

4.       Call 911 (which we finally did).

How to change your smoke alarm battey


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      Jim  7 years ago

      I would have thought that Ted being retired from the Coast Guard you would have knowen better. Quit scaring me.

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