As you read the “picture” above, imagine this message blaring repeatedly as if broadcast from every wall of your house, stupefying and earsplitting in volume, waking you from a deep and peaceful sleep. This was how I woke up December 5th, shortly after 5:15 a.m.
What a terrifying, God-awful way to wake up! I felt heart, lungs and brain had all died and I was too stunned to turn on a light as I fumbled with my feet for my slippers. After a quick tour of a deafening but otherwise unremarkable first floor, I called 911.
“I hear your alarm and have alerted the fire department. Do you want a fire engine?” I reported that I could see nothing wrong and suspected a malfunction, but thought a fireman would be the better judge. Asked if I was in Biddeford, I said “No, Biddeford Pool” and the Dispatcher told me the truck was on the way. I gave them my name, street address and phone number, and was told to get a coat and leave the house at once.
Well trained by my parents on priorities, I visited the bathroom, made sure my purse was in my walker basket, and headed to the coat closet. By this time in addition to the bass cries of “Fire, Fire!” I had also distinguished the treble shriek of my home security system. Then the phone rang. It was my local son, Clint, saying the security company had called him and he would be there in a minute. Thankfully, about this time the “Fire! Fire!” alarm FINALLY turned off.
Clint must have called en route, since he walked in at the end of his call. He took a rapid run-through of the house, beginning with the basement and the furnace area. He then helped zip me into my chosen yellow puffy parka and helped navigate my walker and me to a bench on the front porch. Before joining me to wait for the firemen, he also took an inspection tour around the outside of the house.
The fire truck arrived in about 20 minutes and two smiling firemen carrying various detection devices headed into the house. They had gone about 4 feet when a NEW piercing alarm began to sound, accompanied by flashing red lights. “Carbon monoxide at lethal levels” announced one of the firemen.
Clint reported to the firemen a foul-smelling furnace and was asked to turn off the noxious beast and silence the remaining alarm. The firemen first opened all house doors and windows, then asked Clint to produce any household fans and proceeded to put their gas-eating apparatus into action. Meanwhile, I sat, stunned, having been sure that it was an alarm malfunction and never having once thought of carbon monoxide poisoning.
It took only about an hour and a half until the firemen told us it was safe to re-enter the house. They also complimented me on being legally blind, as had I been legally deaf, demented (or possibly dead drunk?), I might well be dead. They left, and Clint went home charged to call the oil company to come and check the furnace, while I retired to my bed to contemplate what I had learned from the incident. It seemed obvious that I bore much of the blame for what had happened, but I could also take pride in my insistence on having a house security system put in when we moved here. (A thwarted burglary when we lived in Irvington had prompted buying an alarm for that house.)
Sad truth. Had we not installed our fire and burglar alarm 25 years ago, I could now be Resting in Peace instead of struggling to complete this blog. However, carbon monoxide detection alarms have grown in importance and in some places houses without them cannot be sold. We have now installed a carbon monoxide detection component to our alarm system, which has the benefit of NOT waiting for a near-fatal level before sounding.
Dead River Oil Company would not let Clint order a visit, because his name was not listed on my account. This may be a bigger issue for older people, but the second name on accounts can be critically important for calling for help or repairs.
Our 25-year-old furnace was clearly a major player in the morning’s events. I found myself wondering if it, all by itself, could have produced a fatal dose of carbon monoxide (a very scary thought) or if I inadvertently had left undone something which I ought to have done (another scary thought!).
Socrates said “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” When I called Dead River Company to confirm Clint’s request for an emergency furnace cleaning, I asked some questions. Did I currently have a contract for an annual cleaning? The answer was alarming. Union Oil had sold its business to Dead River Company in 2007, and I had had no regular cleaning contract since then. I had requested cleanings just two or three times during that period. I immediately signed up for their “half priced” program, where one pays an annual fee in exchange for a yearly furnace cleaning and for all service calls being at half price. Too bad I didn’t realize this sooner; it took the service man 3 1/2 hours to clean out a packed-to-the-gills furnace boiler.
Also packed to the gills is my coat closet. Inexplicably, when I could no longer wear my beloved high heels, my passion turned to outerwear. The yellow parka I grabbed when leaving the house that morning was too tight, too short and made of down, to which I am allergic and can only wear for an hour or so. Stupid choice! Wise heads advise selecting a coat that fits, with pockets stuffed with scarf, hat and gloves, and boots nearby. Cleaning out the outgrown, worn out and heirloom jackets in that closet awaits my attention—of course!
Reliving that morning as I wrote about it made me as slow as molasses in January, February and even early March. A lighter topic should be writable in half that time. I’m hoping you’ll be reading my next blog before 2022!