Friday, November 21, 2008

Check your smoke detectors

First off, to any relatives reading this. We're OK!!!

Last night, around 2am, our smoke detectors went off. Apparently the ventless gas fireplace in our basement was malfunctioning some how. Not sure exactly what was wrong, but when I ran out of my bedroom to see what was going on, there was a rather impressively scary-big flame in the fireplace.

We were thinking it was the CO detectors at first, but apparently it was the actual smoke detectors. (good thing we changed those batteries a few weeks ago!)

Since we had thought it was the CO detectors, my dad came downstairs and turned off the gas feed to that fireplace and then we'd called 911 (just in case) and sat outside in the cold (19 degrees! and this is an important detail later)

After I'd called 911, I called my aunt that lives across the street, because I didnt want her to worry when a fleet of fire engines showed up in the street. Good thing I called her. She has a brand new furnace, and apparently it was having a problem last night (she had more smoke in her house than we did!)

Her smoke detectors never went off, and she was feeling sick. So, it's probably a good thing we were having a problem too and that our alarms were blowing out our eardrums.

She told me about the problem, and the FD wasnt here yet, so I didnt even bother to call them back about her house. As soon as they got here, I asked one of the firefighters to go to my aunts house with me to check it out too. (not sure what they did find, but she's getting her furnace checked today)

The Omaha Fire Department was so cool. I had felt silly about calling them because other than the large flame in the gas fireplace that went away after we turned off the gas feed to it, we didnt see a problem. But I'm glad that I called now, since my aunt was feeling so sick. (I was dizzy in my basement for about an hour before our alarms went off)

But, we're all ok now, so I'm basically just doing this blog post to remind everyone to check their smoke detectors, and if you dont have carbon monoxide detectors, get to a store and get a couple.

and if they ever go off, dont just knock them off the wall and go back to sleep (I think my dad was considering this option. I insisted on calling 911 because I was scared to sleep in the basement after that)

Now, if I could just get the neighbors to quit parking at the t-intersection down the street (on a curve!) to actually park in their empty driveways so that when the fire engines arrive, they can actually get onto our street without having to resort to using the fire engine to push the parked cars off the roads....that didnt happen last night, but I've seen it happen in our old neighborhood once)

We're shopping for a new (vented) fireplace, or maybe another option for keeping my basement warm...and at least one of my parents will probably be getting fire extinguishers for Christmas. (no real clue what to get people this year)

At least we know the smoke detectors work! (and that there's no way in hell to sleep while one of those is rupturing your eardrums)

Oh, and one of our theories about what happened. We (parents, and my aunt across the street) all have heat pumps. In the winter, the heat pump keeps the house warm until the temperature drops below 20 degrees (remember, I mentioned a few paragraphs ago how cold it was last night?) When the temperature gets below 20 degrees the heat pump shuts off, and the gas furnace will kick on. Last night was the first time that my aunt's furnace had been on since it was installed. She and her heating company that she hired to do the install, think that her furnace was burning off some residual chemicals or dust from the manufacture of her furnace, and that's what caused the smoke in her house and was making her sick.

The gas company guy that the OFD called to our house last night thought that the fireplace was malfunctioning and that when the gas furnace in the store room came on, that it was sucking up more of the oxygen in the room, and that caused the fireplace to not burn off all the gas or something (again, I'm not sure of the physics behind all this) and the flame in the fireplace was huge because it was trying to suck up a ton of air or something and was competing with the furnace or something.

So, we're probably going to get a vented fireplace now, or a nice snazzy electric one that wont try to kill us.


Ok, I checked the gas fireplace earlier, because we couldnt figure out a logical reason for what happened last night, and I think we figured out what happened.

We almost could have had a very serious fire. Apparently, a couple of weeks ago when the heating/air conditioning company came to check the furnace, we had the guy turn on the pilot to that fireplace. I told him to set the fireplace to lowest setting. (it has a knob that says "Low" and "High". He was supposed to set it to low.

I checked it earlier, and it's set to nearly the highest setting. Which I dont understand quite why that is. There's a tick-mark on the thing to show which way to turn the knob for high or low.

So, we very nearly got flash fried last night. And it's really a good thing that my dad turned off that gas before the fire department got here. I found scorch marks on the outside of the fireplace.

The fireplace is at the bottom of the stairs and the heat had gone up the stairs, and the upstairs was so hot last night, that I'd be willing to bet that it was probably in the high 80s or low 90s upstairs.

We're definitely going to be replacing this fireplace with something that's got a better set-up for a thermostat or at least an easier to get to emergency shut off of some sort.

Either that, or we'll get a nice decorative ELECTRIC fireplace in the basement. Something pretty with no real flames inside of it.

I'm going to go freak out a little bit about how scary this has gotten after the fact now...and I think I'll start pricing fire extinguishers and see if I can get enough to have one in every room of the house...


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