03 January 2006

An inauspicious start to the New Year

I was suddenly awakened very early this morning by a loud noise. It jolted me out of the stupor of my sleep like a gunshot. In the fogginess of whatever dream I was having, I remember thinking it sounded as if a ceiling beam had suddenly snapped.

Whatever it was, it was loud. It was also clearly something right there in the room, not down the hall. I began fumbling around to see if I had knocked anything off the night-stand that might have made a crashing noise.


We always sleep with music in the background, and the music was still playing. The iPod was in the middle of a collection of John Rutter hymn arrangements, so I was pretty sure the startling noise didn't come from the iPod-speaker thingy.

But the noise had been loud and vivid, and I was fairly sure it was real, and not a dream. So I decided to look around. I turned on a light, and that didn't reveal anything amiss. Darlene was still sound asleep, even though she usually awakens quickly at unusual noises. Wrigley was still snoring soundly.

I was beginning to think the whole thing was my imagination when I heard the smoke-detector chirp. It wasn't sounding an alarm; it was just that chirping noise those things make when the battery begins to wear out. Since I was still half asleep, I didn't instantly recognize the chirp as a low-battery signal, so I started sniffing the air closely, to see if I could detect any smoke. Sure enough, I could smell the unmistakable fragrance of that ozone smell you get when you have an electrical fire or something shorts out.

It was a faint odor, and after 15 seconds or so, it seemed to be getting weaker, not stronger. But clearly something had shorted out, and most likely whatever it was, was the source of my noise. I ruled out the iPod speakers, because I figured a short there would have stopped the music. There wasn't much else in the room actually using electricity, so I looked around at all the electrical outlets themselves. While I was doing that, the smoke-detector chirped three more times.

I decided I had better awaken Darlene and get her to help me investigate. She was just starting to wake up when there were two more muffled gunshot sounds, not as loud as the one that awakened me, but enough to jolt Darlene immediately awake.

It was instantly clear to both of us that the explosions came from the smoke-detector itself. It was still chirping, only now more frequently than ever. It wasn't technically sounding the smoke alarm, but it was obviously trying to tell us something.

The commotion and chirping finally awakened the watch-beagle, and he was not happy. He started barking ferociously at the chirping smoke-detector, acting as if he had cornered a ferret or something on the ceiling.

The ceiling in our bedroom is at least nine feet high where the smoke-detector is placed, so I had to go down to the garage, get a step-ladder, and bring it back up. That took four or five minutes, which seemed like an eternity, because Wrigley was barking non-stop and Darlene was frantically trying to shush him. (She has this idea that the neighbors can hear the beagle bark even when he's indoors, so she tolerates no barking at night. Wrigley normally understands that, but this was clearly a special case, and he would not be shushed.)

Anyway, when I finally got the ladder set up under the smoke-detector (no small feat, but that's another story), I couldn't get the battery compartment on the smoke-detector to open. Darlene had changed the batteries about a month ago, and she assured me she had no difficulty opening it. So in that tender way preoccupied and agitated husbands tend to speak, I asked, "You didn't jam the new battery in backwards, did you?"

She insisted she had put the battery in correctly. Nonetheless, the battery-door simply would not open. In my fumbling with it, however, I discovered a half-twist would free the entire smoke-detector from its mounting. It was now hanging from the ceiling by two wires, still chirping. It's a dual-powered device, so the back of it has a special plug to connect to the wiring, and I unplugged this.

The infernal thing kept chirping, even after I disconnected it.

Back on ground level, I could see that the battery-door on the smoke-detector was being impeded by the battery itself, so I took a pair of tweezers and carefully pried it open.

The battery inside had exploded. Both top and bottom had been blown out of the battery, and there was some thick gray residue inside the smoke-detector. (The picture at the right is a photo I took of the actual battery.)

Even without battery or power source, the smoke-detector chirped at least three or four more times. The final chirp tailed off like a dying penny-whistle.

I looked at the clock. It was 3:15 AM.

At that point, most people would just go back to bed. I, however, wanted to see what would happen if I put a new battery back in the smoke-detector. So I carefully swabbed all the gray goo out with Q-Tips® and replaced the battery. (Note: This time it's an Energizer®.) I remounted it, tested it, and it seems to be working OK.

I have no clue what would make a fairly fresh battery explode, but just in case it's a problem with the smoke-detector, I'm getting a whole new one ASAP. After all, this one had a battery explode right inside it, and it didn't even sound an alarm, which seems kind of lame. (I was going to draw a parallel here with the less-than-stellar performace of my guard-dog, but I promised Wrigley I wouldn't make a public issue of his incompetence.)

Anyway, the Lord was gracious to us, and the whole thing is a reminder of why we should never put our ultimate trust in the devices of men. I'm thankful that this happened while we were home, and not while we were out of town for two weeks, so that the corrosive contents of a defective alkaline battery weren't left to drip out of my ceiling. I'm also very thankful that the outcome wasn't worse than it was. Think about the irony of dying in a fire caused by an explosion inside your smoke-detector! (On the one hand, I suppose that would make a funny and fitting conclusion to an extremely bizarre biography. On the other hand, I would love to be a grandfather someday.) So I am grateful for the Lord's goodness to me, and this is a reminder of His loving care for us.

That's all I'll have time to blog about today. This (for me) is the first day of work in 2006. Tomorrow (Lord willing) I'll try to start blogging some more meaty content.

Phil's signature


clyde said...

I am also thankful it wasn't more serious. God is good!

Steve said...

Phil said, "I suppose that would make a funny and fitting conclusion to an extremely bizarre biography. On the other hand, I would love to be a grandfather someday."

Well, if you do become a grandfather, your grandkids will never get bored at your house. You'll have too many twilight-zonesque stories to tell them.

Lee Shelton said...

"Think about the irony of dying in a fire caused by an explosion inside your smoke-detector!"

Not to mention the irony of this happening to the founder of Pyromaniac. :-)

Glad to hear everything is okay.

LeeC said...

Isn't it amazing how Romans 8:28 always applies?

Glad to hear all went well.

Bryan Peters said...

Praise God that it turned out alright. Don't you love that divine sense of humor? Since you all are okay, I feel pretty good about being as amused as I am by the whole thing. It certainly has put a big grin on my face for the rest of the day.

Rich said...

Our Carbon Monoxide started chirping the other day while we were at dinner (it was next to the table). Context - we just installed a wood stove insert.

As you might know, CM is an odorless, extremely toxic gas. I quickly look at the display as I screamed "everyone stop breathing." The display read like some obscure form of a Hebrew verb I forgot how to parse. Needless to say it was a tense few minutes. I was pretty freaked out not knowing if we were about to keel over.

I unplugged it, plugged it back in and everything was fine. Mind you I am still a little nervous about the failure but I have no idea what went wrong. God was good here too.

I look back at the table – my whole family is turning blue with big, puffy cheeks and WIDE eyes. LOL! I told them it was okay to breathe again.

P.S. Phil, If Darlene had the strength to insert a 9v the wrong way I would be VERY impressed. THAT would require some incredible strength. ;o)

A Servant of the King said...

I'm thankful also that it wasn't more serious. As the owner of a beagle, I understand where you're coming from......

FX Turk said...

You see? You take a shot at the fat man, and he puts rigged batteries in your smoke detector.


Andrew said...

That's a fabulous post, Phil. I do hope you'll take time to include some more of these very funny tales.

JRODFOSS said...

Last year I managed to blow up the batteries in my wireless laser mouse. Like your smoke detector the mouse battery made a loud pop which shook my hand like a fire cracker had gone off however the pop was followed by a sizzle as the battery acids oozed out the bottom. I choose to believe that the battery blew up because of its over use at work however, some of my co-workers believe that I gave it some sort of heart attack because of a sudden surge of work which it is not used to doing.

Wikipedia has some good information on batteries and why they sometimes explode.

You should blog tommorrow about your ladder experience.


Chris Freeland said...

Wrigley's continued slumber is probably an indication of depression. Perhaps it stems from the humiliation he must feel for having to wear that collar instead of the one he really likes (ie... the one he got for Christmas).

Andrew said...

Way to start out the New Year with a "bang".

Houses here in Brazil are generally smoke-detector free, and the numerous loud noises on New Years are causes by fireworks and actual rifles.

Phil Johnson said...

Chris: Wrigley has been proudly sporting the orange collar since the day it arrived in the mail. It's a good color for his complexion, but I'm afraid he has been wearing paraphernalia associated with mediocre sports teams for so long now that he has developed a complex about it.

Neil said...

It's the dog's fault somehow. No good can come from owning a beagle, especially if you let the infernal thing sleep in the same room as you.

Look at it this way. You had a great start to the new year because you didn't fall off the ladder.

Bowden McElroy said...

I once spent half the night trying to track down a high-pitched noise. After checking every smoke detector in every room (and waking up the whole house) it turns out I have tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

Joe said...

Actually, this post was very compelling. I had to find out what the noise was.

Glad you are safe.

Kenny said...

That is funny! I don't think I know you, but in any case I am glad you are safe.

Kim said...

Life isn't fair. You blog about an exploding battery and a barking beagle, and you get loads of comments. I win the prize wooden nickle from Frank Turk, and I get two comments. Where is the justice?

Be thankful the sound that woke you up was not the sound of a retching beagle. We've had that here.

Melodee said...

"Meaty"? I like this kind of content better! Of course, what do you expect from a school-at-home mom, right?

CuriousSaint said...

That's some good stuff. Ha ha.

@ lee shelton

"Not to mention the irony of this happening to the founder of Pyromaniac."


FireAlarmFan said...

There has been a story on this. Evidently the Duracell battery and BRK's 4120B/4120SB don't get along very well. There have been other reports of this too.

News said...

I just had this happen in the alarm in my apartment today. I woke up to a loud popping sound, followed by the alarm "chirping". I opened the alarm to find the Duracell battery with some obvious damage to it. I replaced the Duracell with a Rayovac... hopefully this one won't explode. The alarm company recommends Everready batteries as a replacement, but I couldn't find any Everready, so I went with Rayovac.

Johnny said...

The problem is in the detector.

The two models identified are First Alert's BRK brand 4120B and 4120SB. The only batteries that will work safely with the models are Eveready or Energizer 9-volt batteries.