False Alarm

Freedom Tower

Freedom Tower © Grace Cavallo

My carbon monoxide detector started chirping on Friday night. It’s happened before; maybe a few months ago, and I changed the battery so I didn’t think it could be that. The alert is intermittent, but it’s so loud and jarring that it’s hard to ignore (which I guess is the point).

So I did the usual…I checked the stove, the burners, made sure everything was off and seemed copacetic. I opened the windows and doors and aired out the place. It stopped but then started again later on. It was late at night so I finally got up on the ladder and took the battery out. The next day, I bought a new battery and installed it. The chirping started again at once.

Am I slowly being poisoned by carbon monoxide and don’t even know it? 

I decided it was time to call Con Edison. After a 10-minute hold, I get a representative and explain the story.

REP: Do you have any symptoms…a headache…do you feel nauseous…lightheaded?

[Am I lightheaded?]

ME: Um, no, I don’t think so…

REP: Ma’am, you need to call 911 immediately.

ME: What…really?

REP: Yes.

ME: I mean, it’s been going off since last night and I’m still walking around so it’s probably fine…

REP: Ma’am, you need to leave the premises right now and call 911.

I’m a little freaked out now.

ME: Are you sure that’s really necessary?

REP: Yes, I’m sure.

I remembered there was a horrific case of a residential building that blew up in the East Village over a year ago due to a gas main leak…which probably explains why Con Edison is not messing around.

I hang up and call the super of my building. I mean…I’m not really sure what I expect him to do, but I’m feeling like I need a second opinion.

No answer.

I walk down the hall to open my front door. I turn on the light.


No turning on lights…lighting matches…(using cell phones?)…nothing that can trigger a spark.

Okay, deep breath.

No! No deep breaths ‘cause poison!

I dial 911.

911: Yes, what’s your emergency?

ME: Well, I’m not sure it’s an emergency, but…

I recount the story…chirps…loud…batteries…Con Edison.

911: The fire department is on the way.

Minutes later, I hear sirens in the distance. Oh, sweet baby Jesus…really?

The buzzer rings. (Trigger!)

There is a cavalry of good-looking men at my door. In FULL firemen regalia…I’m talking hats, boots, jackets, tanks, axes…WTF?! There are lights and sirens going mental outside my building. I can feel my neighbors at their peepholes.

ME: Thank you guys so much for coming.

CUTE FIREMAN #1: What’s the problem ma’am.

I tell the story for the twelfth time.

CUTE FIREMAN #1: Do you feel nauseous? Lightheaded?

ME: Um, I don’t think so…

Within seconds six strapping guys are piled into my tiny apartment with their abundance of gear and manliness. I point them towards the kitchen.

CUTE FIREMAN #2 forges ahead holding a contraption in the air. He gets to the kitchen and yells back, “Zero.”

Now, I’m no carbon monoxide air specialist, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that means I just called these guys out here for nothin’.

Maybe it’s my imagination but I could almost feel the breeze from the collective eye rolls going on under their hats.

I can’t stop apologizing and tripping over myself.

CUTE FIREMAN #1: It’s okay ma’am, you did the right thing. It could just be a malfunction. You know these should be replaced every 5-7 years.

Which makes sense since I’ve been living here over 6 years and have never thought to replace anything beyond the batteries.

ME: I’ll definitely do that. And thank you. Thank you all again for coming out here. I really appreciate it. And sorry, again…I’m really, really, sorry.

And just like that, they are gone—in and out in 30 seconds (not to be confused with my love life).

The whole thing was surreal. You mean, I don’t need to do anything else? Sign anything? I was half expecting a bill for life-saving-services-rendered.

Personally, I haven’t had a whole lot of experience with cops and firemen in the real world (I suppose that’s a good thing and I’ve been lucky). It just kind of hit home how they just showed up at my door like a bunch of handsome angels and came barreling in my home, not knowing what the heck they were going to encounter inside. What if my apartment was only seconds away from being blown to smithereens?

I know we’ve all heard it a million times…that these guys are brave, that they are heroes, that they have the hardest job in the world and they do it selflessly. From a kitten in a tree, to a malfunctioning carbon monoxide detector, to twin skyscraper infernos—they answer the call.

It’s hard to believe that today marked the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Every year in the weeks leading up to the anniversary there are news stories, recaps, and remembrances of one of the most painful periods in U.S. history. I dread this time of year. It’s difficult not to go back to that day in my mind and relive the heartache that is forever seared in my consciousness, and that of much of the rest of the world.

I am grateful for these men and women who answered the call then, and continue to answer it everyday. I was reminded of the toll it takes to do just that when I passed this makeshift memorial today in front of a firehouse on 19th street.

Thank you for all you do for our great city, FDNY, NYPD. Never forget.

Engine Co. 3, Ladder Co. 12, 7th Battalion

Engine Co. 3, Ladder Co. 12, 7th Battalion © Grace Cavallo

%d bloggers like this: