Imagine yourself trying to get to sleep on a typical hot, humid July night in central Illinois, in a home that has no air conditioning, in a room with only a 20-inch box fan to help keep you from sticking to the sheets.
As you finally find yourself about to sink into that blissful state called sleep, you hear your 5-year-old son’s voice in your ear.
“Dad, you need to come upstairs, I think there’s something wrong with the fan in my room. It’s making a loud squealing sound.” Bleary-eyed and feeling more than a little bit grouchy, I get up wondering what my boy has done now, and what I would find stuck in the blades when I get upstairs.
Together we start up the stairs, and by golly, the boy is right. There is a loud squealing sound.
I begin to think bearings in the fan motor have seized up, and the thought of having to buy another fan irritates me more. (Remember, I’m already hot, sleepy and grouchy.)
But after a few more steps, my sense of smell overrides my hearing. There is an unmistakable smell of smoke in the air, and soon my eyes are burning. I reach the top of the stairs, hit the light switch and nothing happens. Now I realize it’s not the fan making a squealing noise. It’s the smoke alarm at the top of the stairway. I send my son back downstairs to wake his mother, and tell her they need to get out of the house.
There’s no fire right now, but the room has more than enough smoke in it to tell me there soon will be if I don’t do something.
Before they head outside, my wife brings me a flashlight and I look for the source. It didn’t take long to realize the smoke was coming from a ceiling fan I had installed earlier in the day. I disconnected the fan, took it down and could see red glowing embers on the supporting wood in the ceiling. Then I saw the problem. One of the screws anchoring the fan to the ceiling had gone through the electrical wiring. Fortunately, for us, the circuit breaker tripped and cut power to that line before things got hot enough for a full-fledged fire to develop.
Suddenly I wasn’t grouchy any more. My grouchiness had been replaced by a sense of relief. I was relieved to know my son was safe, that we were safe, and our home was not seriously damaged (except for that one piece of burnt wiring and that one piece of lumber with an extra-crispy edge).
These events actually happened one summer night in 1981, and now as I think back more than 35 years, I realize that a smoke alarm likely saved my son’s life, and certainly prevented a major fire in our home.
There are three working smoke alarms in my house today. Sure it gets annoying sometimes because they go off every time a frozen pizza gets popped in the oven, or every time the microwave popcorn gets a bit overdone. However, that minor annoyance also represents a certain peace of mind. It is a not so subtle reminder that the alarms are working, and that I don’t have to try and remember I need check them each time we move the clocks up or back one hour.
Smoke alarms save homes. Smoke alarms save lives.
This fall, Red Cross volunteers and our partners are coming together to Sound the Alarm: the installation of 100,000 free smoke alarms in more than 100 major cities across the country. In the Central and Southern Illinois Region, we will hold Sound the Alarm events in Bloomington-Normal, Decatur, Kewanee, Muscatine, Peoria and the Quad Cities. The installation and fire safety events will provide a lifesaving service in our quest to reduce death and injury from home fires in high-risk communities.
Here are three ways you can join in to help save lives in your own community: Sign up to volunteer to install smoke alarms, start a fundraiser to sponsor installations, or make a gift. For more information visit soundthealarm.org.