Monday, October 10, 2011

“I removed all my smoke detectors because the noise scared my son”

What if we all responded to people’s actions with the sarcasm they sometimes so richly deserved? This is fire prevention week, so needless to say as a fire fighter, I was out most of the day promoting fire safety. Today we were out in front of our neighborhood grocery displaying our truck and smokehouse trailer to teach children how to escape a burning house.

As the morning went by, we got the usual gambit of intelligent questions like: When should you replace your fire alarms, and do I need a fire extinguisher in my house, but today I ran into one gentleman that set my sarcasm meter to high.

This particular gentlemen walked up to our table with his nine year old son and perused the free fire helmets and fire safety paraphernalia as he explained what a great service these nice policemen did for their community. Now don’t get me wrong, I agree that our fellow brothers in blue are an indispensible asset to our lives, but we are not policemen, we are firemen. I let him go on for a few more seconds, thinking sooner or later he would realize he was standing in front of a ten foot long “Fire Prevention” sign, then I politely interrupted him to explain who we were and why we were there.

When I finished, the man looked confused, but instead of responding, he just turned his attention back to the free items on the table.

“So what’s this stuff for?” He said.

“Just some free stuff for the kids, help yourself to anything you like”

I picked up one of the canvas backpacks we were giving away and handed it to his son who had, if nothing else, heard and understood one very important word… Free!

As the boy loaded up on cups, toys and pencils, his father glanced at me looking a bit baffled once again.

“You don’t have any prices on this stuff, how much is it?”

I glanced over at the big sign on the table that read “Free, please help yourself.” and thought, maybe this guy can’t read.

I started to feel a bit ashamed thinking I had misjudged this poor man, then he picked up one the toy badges and read it aloud.

“Jr. Fire Marshal” he said with a smirk, then without missing a beat he turned to point at the fire truck behind him.

“That Yours?”

Nope, he was a reader and a genius to boot! This was where I wanted to tell him that the truck belonged to one of the cashiers and that she drove it back and forth to work because of the great gas mileage… but I didn’t.

“Yes sir,” I said. “Would you like to take a look?”

“No thanks, what’s this little house trailer you got goin over here though?”

I lead him and his son over to our prevention trailer and explained that we had set it up like a miniature house for kids to look through and learn about fire safety.

“I’d be glad to take you through if you’d like to take a look.” I said, keeping up my best fire prevention face.

The boy yanked hard on his father’s coat before he could refuse.

“Yes daddy yes.” He said with a mouth full of candy. “I wanna see it!”

The dad smiled and patted him on the head then motioned me in. As we walked in the door the man put his hand on my arm as if he’d forgotten something very important, then asked me a question that effectively ended the tour.

“I hope there’s not going to be a lot of noise in here. We had to remove all the smoke detectors in our house because the alarms scared little Joey here.”

I looked at the man, then down at the doe eyed expression if the nine year old.

“Well the poor little guy. He must have been terrified. I removed all the smoke detectors in my house to, that way when I give my kids the matches and gasoline to play with they aren’t startled by the big scary beeping sounds when everything goes up in flames.”

OK, that’s what I wanted to say, but instead I tried to explain that the noise was designed to warn everyone in the house of danger, and I urged him to replace them as soon as possible.

I offered to continue the tour but when I told him there would be a little noise his son threw himself on the floor and threw a tantrum the likes of which I have never seen before. I was reminded of the children on Willy Wonka, thrashing and screaming until they got their way. The father looked down at the boy and pleaded with him.

“Now Joey, we’ve talked about this.” He said in a voice barely audible above the child’s screaming. “It will only be for a moment. The nice fireman says it’s not even scary. I’ll bet he could set it up just like our house so that there’s no noise at all. Would that be alright?”

The boy continued to scream, then the father shrugged his shoulders and turned to leave. As soon as Joey realized he’d won, he stopped crying, popped his sucker back into his mouth, then practically skipped out the door.

I did not follow.

I watched out the window as Joey sprinted into the parking lot at full speed with his bag full of goodies. His father gave a half hearted; “Now Joey, slow down,” and I wondered at how little Joey had survived this long.

So is there a moral to this story? Too many to list I think.

Being that it’s “FIRE” prevention week and not crime prevention, or brat prevention, or crappy parent prevention week; let’s just stick with this.

Replace your smoke detectors every ten years, your batteries every year, and no matter how much your child might complain about the noise, it’s still better than being trapped within the confines of an inferno, blissfully free of the annoying beep of a smoke alarm.

Have a great week and if you have any “little angel” stories of your own, let me have ‘em!


  1. *Blinks & gradually picks jaw off the floor* Wow! I can't even wrap my head around that level of idiocy; he's putting his entire family's life in danger just because his son threw a fit about a little noise?

    I loved what you WANTED to say; it had me cracking up, and so did the dry humor in the rest of the article...but the blatant disregard for safety in that family really takes the cake.

  2. Look at it this way. If little Joey lives to be an adult, he'll probably be exactly the same kind of parent as his Dad is. With a child just like him.

    And the the universe will sit back and quietly giggle.

  3. Smoke detectors and the noise they made saved the lives of my entire family last December 1. We were asleep when our oil burner ignited and if it weren't for smoke detectors, we would have all died, given the speed at which our house filled with toxic smoke from the oil and the chemicals/plastics the fire consumed in the basement of our home.

    I would shout this from the rooftops every day if I could: make sure you have working smoke detectors on every floor of your home.

    Do it.


    One thought I had in reading this story is that the boy was on the Autism spectrum. While that doesn't excuse the father's utter stupidity, it might explain the auditory sensitivity and the tantrum.

  4. O. M. G! Seriously cannot believe you kept your cool with that!

  5. Wow. I have to commend you. And this is why I don't do well dealing with the public. I tried it for a while but keeping a tight rein on my sarcasm proved too stressful. Not only a brave firefighter, but a stoic one too. Well done!

  6. Thanks so much for all your comments. It's hard to believe what people will do to avoid simple responsible parenting. @LJ you right. Smoke detectors in the home are soooo important. There are still so many people out there that don't realize how valuable such a simple thing can be.

  7. There ought to be a course or certificate one must take/earn before becoming a parent. What you had there was a future leader of our society, who will be quite within his rights to breed later in life. Scary. *shudders*

  8. What bothers me most about this story, among so many, many things, is that this man will expect that brave men and women, like yourself, will risk their lives to save his. His utter disregard for the safety of his own family is astonishing.

  9. While I agree the guy made an idiotic decision, I wanted to say this kid might well be on the Autism spectrum. My son has Asperger's, and the tantrum plus the sensitivity to noise and the fear of potential noise sounded very familiar to me.

    It's entire possible that both father and son were on the spectrum and that the father doesn't like the noise either. If a child with AS or ASD were frightened by a smoke detector, a parent might find the only way to calm the kid down was to tell the child he'd disabled the smoke detector.

    I'm not saying it's RIGHT. I'm just saying it might not be pure stupidity. It's still stupid, and they should have found another way to deal with the kid's problem, but it's easier to understand if the child is having multiple meltdowns every day because he's afraid of the smoke detector.

    BTW, I read one account about the Deepwater Horizon disaster where it was asserted that they'd done the same thing: disabled the warning sirens on the oil rig because it might disturb the oil workers' sleep. And there, clearly, there were no autism issues.

  10. Great view of what we're capable of. Your patience and compassion top the list.

  11. @Steve. LOL You've go that right, could have six more just like him.

  12. @Kylie. Thanks and your right but its even worse when those sort of people sue the fire department because their house burned down... and win.

  13. @ Jane. The thought had occurred to me as well but he seemed to have no problem with the whaling siren he demanded we run over and over again. I am no expert, but I think the problem was likely Bratism. I would hate to class this family in with those that have real challenges like yourself and other brave parents with autistic children.

  14. I've recently installed some fire alarms that have a silent mode. That way if there is a fire at night my sleep isn't disturbed.

  15. I don't know if I will have the same patience as you did, Chuck. If I were you, I would have said that thing you wanted to tell him. He certainly deserved it. Hehe

  16. @Tyson. You should have held out a little longer. I think they're coming out with a snooze feature next month!

  17. @travelingreader. I have to admit it would have been great the see the expression on his face LOL.

  18. In my book, you're one of the heroes - like my dad, my dad's dad and his father before him. I've heard similar stories all my life. Thank you for acting in a truly valiant way - you chose to accentuate the positive and managed to impart a bit of a lesson to everyone concerned. Well taken.

  19. Thank you. Fire fighting runs in my family to. My father and also an uncle. Thanks so much for the kind words. Have a great day.

  20. Great story and a very important subject to share. I am a Fire Emergency Dispatcher and work with my battalion at our main station. Seems that we always have a lot of amazing "station stories" with how some people act, react, or not even act in emergency situations. Sad sometimes, but so very true. Love to you and yours! I will be following you to keep updates and to read your quotes and your new book.

  21. Thanks Kay! Im sure you have some doozies of your own you could tell. Thanks for the kind words and keep up the great work yourself. Without you we would just run around in circles like chickens with our heads cut off LOL.

  22. Love the stories you write. Your humor, your patience, your tendency for mischief, maturity, etc. shows through. It's not the same line of story you were telling but its in the same line of "crappy parent." I was reminded from the other day, when I saw a truck full of kids on a busy street. They were in the back with the tailgate down. There were several kids dangling their legs off of it. I don't care if you're driving 5 MPH or less, or you think its cool, there were so many possible ways that traumatic injuries could have occured with that scenario...its just incomprehensible how STUPID this "adult" was.

  23. @E, Thanks so much for the compliment. It means a lot. When I was in high school I watched a dad drive while his kid "Car surfed" on the hood. He surfed until dad hit the brakes a little too hard, then the kid had two broken arms to show for all that fun!