Thursday, October 1, 2009

New York's Bravest to the rescue

We woke up this morning to the sound of our carbon monoxide detector going off, signaling one of two things: danger or defect. Fortunately we weren't in harm's way, it simply needed new batteries. Easy solution.

It was a different story four years ago, when the same sound jolted us out of bed and convinced us death was lurking. In the weeks before, there had been a couple of tragic news stories about carbon monoxide poisoning. They described in depressing detail how several members of a family died from "the silent killer." Everyone's heard the warnings: odorless, tasteless, toxic, but we never thought we'd be confronted by it.

With those stories lodged uncomfortably in our minds, the shrill beeping of the detector at 6 in the morning on a winter's day sparked immediate concern.

Louise heard the beeping and woke me up and I then heard the fear in her voice.

Nothing pulls you out of a slumber quite like the fear of a quick, painless death.

Had we come close to never waking up from our sleep?

We stared up at the detector that was apparently detecting invisible poison. I didn't really think we were in trouble, figuring there was a malfunction with the recently installed device. Still, I called the city's information line, 311. At that point I didn't think there was a need for 911, even if panic was slowly filling the apartment along with - possibly - toxins.

The operator asked what the issue was and I calmly explained that the carbon monoxide detector was going off but I didn't think it was an emergency but could you tell us what to do so we don't die and end up as a six-inch story in the Daily News that's subsequently referenced whenever city officials talk about the importance of installing detectors?

"I'm patching you through to 911."

Nooo, waaait. It was too late. A new operator, a 911 one, asked what the emergency was and I again detailed the situation, stressing that I didn't think it was anything serious. She'd heard enough and patched me through to the neighborhood fire department. For a third time I told them of our detector. The calm dispatcher said trucks were on the way.

Trucks? Plural? But no, wait, can't you just send a single guy to check out the environment?

I told Louise they were sending help. She did what anyone would do in such a situation: hid her jewelry.

"What are you doing?" I wondered, still trying to get sleep out of my eyes. I thought we should check for nausea, dizziness, headaches. Instead she drafted me into joining her quest to find her most valuable jewels. Rings, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, heirlooms, gifts. She squirreled them away in a locked box, proclaiming them safe.

"From who? The firemen? And they're not going to burn up, we're not on fire."

She looked at me like I was the most naive man in the city and didn't understand how the real world worked.

"You just never know," she said.

"Know what?"

"Something could happen to them."

Two minutes later she emerged from the bathroom after taking the quickest shower of her life. Instead of asking this time, I simply gave a quizzical look.

"I want to be clean, whether I'm found dead or alive."

A minute later, the sounds of fire engines and their sirens pierced the silent morning. I glanced down to the street and saw at least two large red trucks hugging the curb outside our building.

"That's them," I said.

Moments later four firemen barged in, completely decked out in FDNY gear. Boots, helmets, jackets, courage.

And they carried giant Tin Man-type axes that I'd probably struggle to lift but they handled like toothpicks. I guess they'd ax us to freedom and fresh air. These burly, barrel-chested firefighters looked like poster boys for FDNY propaganda films. One stood about 6-6, the others had the grizzled looks of seasoned warriors. If poison had infiltrated the apartment, would they repel down the side of the building with us in tow?

One of them pulled out a little reader to check for carbon monoxide. Nothing. Then he grabbed the detector, stared at it for a couple of seconds and said, "Your battery. It's low. That's how it beeps when you need to change it."


We sheepishly apologized for the commotion, but they were fine with the non-call to duty. They said it happens quite often and it's always better to err on the side of caution. It's not like they're disappointed when they don't get to battle a five-alarm fire.They probably like the change of pace that comes with just pointing out the stupidity of a frightened apartment dweller. And we couldn't help but be impressed by the response time, a reassuring example of how quickly they would spring into action in a true emergency.

Now when we hear the detector go off it acts as a call to arms: I head for our box of batteries, Louise grabs her jewelry. Because you never know.


Anonymous said...

hmmmm..... I posted a comment, but it didn't seem to take! I love those good Inwood firemen, don't you? We are so lucky.... and so many of them have ties to 9/11, too.

Speaking of lucky, sounds like your wife is a lucky woman to have such a talented writer and a good guy to look out for her in a crisis! I am elated to hear that chivalry is indeed not dead after all. Keep these lovely stories coming! Who knows... maybe I've even passed by you and not even known it.... it's such a small world! Sorry if I sound a little star-struck.... it's just that I really do enjoy your work!

Lisa said...

From the fireman I saw when I was there I would be taking a shower too. Have to look good for them! Ha Ha