Last night was a scary night around here. Around 11:15 p.m., as I was about to turn off my reading light, the downstairs smoke detector starting beeping. My first reaction was, “Stupid thing. It always picks night to act up.”
But it wasn't just a warning chirp, it was going off with a vengeance. My husband and I headed downstairs and could already see the smoke billowing in front of the glass doors. As we entered the kitchen there were no visible flames, but the smell was awful.
As I dialed 911 my fingers were shaking. At the same time I was checking on our daughter, fast asleep in her newly renovated room. As my voice quivered, I tried to explain to the dispatcher that although my house was not on fire there was terrible smoke coming from somewhere.
My poor husband dashed around trying to find the source when we were instructed to go outside. I got Allison into her wheelchair and wrapped her in a couple of blankets as we made our way to the porch. The fire trucks came soon after. One fireman yelled out to us, “It smells electrical from here.”
As they piled out of the trucks, unraveling hoses, some walking in the house and others went around, we stood on our lit porch, feeling helpless, cold and panicked. At the same time we were blessed to have help there.
They were quick, obviously organized and well trained. We answered questions about under house space, attic access and pointed to the fuse box as well as crawl spaces. Word came out that it was the dishwasher. The dishwasher had been started right before bed and the electrical panel caught on fire, but shut down the local breaker.
While we waited for the safety of the air to be tested, one of our heroes asked where the blankets were kept. I directed him to the closet in front of Allison's room and he emerged with a stack of small quilts and sheets we could wrap around ourselves. I hadn't noticed my thin pajamas with an RHS letterman jacket thrown over the top and my husbands flip flops on my feet.
As they cleared the house, took a report and allowed us to go back in I became overwhelmed with gratitude. These amazing members of our community are ready to put their lives on the line every minute of every day. They go into situations much more often than we know. We usually only hear of the tragedies and rarely of the near miss like ours.
Even then, they didn't downplay a bit of our situation. There was only relief that it could have been worse, not annoyance or dismissal. These folks were compassionate, polite and professional. They also told me that this was more common than people realize.
The next morning as I searched online I found that our model of dishwasher has a track record of catching on fire. Not just ours, but at least 300 models manufactured by the same company have had reports of suddenly smoking all the way to those who have lost their entire house. That is so very scary to me.
Besides that I learned the following:
- I learned that most appliance repairmen suggest never running your appliances while gone or asleep.
- I discovered that those things you plan to take in a fire aren't in your thoughts when you are thinking only of getting your family out of the house.
- Most of all, I realized that we don't thank our emergency service employees enough. They deserve far more respect than they ever get and that includes the lovely dispatcher who used her calming voice to extract information from a frantic mother standing in a smoky hallway late at night.
The next time you see them in the community say thanks. Purchase treats when they are fundraising at an event. Drop by the firehouse with baked goods or extra veggies from your garden. Just let them know you appreciate everything they do, even the calls they go on that you will likely never hear about.
Please read the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's Home Electrical Safety Checklist to make sure you're better safe than sorry.