Smoked out by friendly firefighters

August 02, 2005|by TIM ROWLAND

Editor's note: This column first was published July 14, 1997.

I always knew that firefighters were brave, yet I never knew how brave.

Never knew, that is, until a couple of them burst into my house last week and put up a smoke detector.

Here's the background. I'd just returned home from the gym and was completely drenched. And not drenched in Kool-Aid, I might add. The house was a wreck and I was mean and grumpy and had just decided to either wash the dishes or throw them out the window a la Lisa Douglas on Green Acres.

The first thing I picked up to wash was a chef's knife, which is roughly the same shape as Vermont, but a little larger.


Then came the knock on the door.

I swear, I'm holding this butcher knife in my hand and I answer the door and there are two uniformed officers of the law and I'm thinking, whoo boy, this probably isn't going to turn out well.

The two officers exchanged a brief glance, as if to say, "Do we want to save this man or do we want to let him burn up?"

As overpowering as the urge must have been to let me burn, they came in anyway and asked to see my smoke detector.

I thought I was going to get arrested and hauled off to the fireman's calaboose.

That's because about four years ago me and my smoke alarm came to blows and I basically ripped it out of the wall.

The reason I ripped it out of the wall was because it was too efficient. It, for example, went off every time I cooked. I took this to be a very unfair, if perhaps accurate, social commentary on my cooking.

But it was more than that. The steam in the shower started to set it off. Bzzzzzz. Then it started to make moral decisions. If I configured an unfair thought about a politician - Bzzzzz. If I decided to skip church - Bzzzzz.

Finally, I faced it. I said, look, buddy, it's either you or me. And I tore it from its hanger.

So anyway, here come the fire police and I'm holding a knife, I'm drenched in sweat and I say, "What do you want?" and they ask to see the only appurtenance in my house that isn't functioning.

So, calling on all my skills, intelligence, natural resources and wit, I did the one thing that comes naturally: I lied.

I said, "Will you look at that?" and appeared to be shocked and appalled at the tangle of what-might-have-been-smoke-detecting wires.

They didn't buy it.

But because they cared about me, I suppose, they put up a new smoke detector, ignored my shabby appearance and we became friends.

They asked me some civil questions, then I gave them some civil answers. They wanted to know what the biggest threat to my neighborhood was and I said, "me" and they said, "besides that" and I said, "well, probably the fistfights."

Then they asked what I thought the greatest cause of fires was and I said, "me" and they said "besides that" and I said "arsonists."

They stopped asking questions after that.

And we went on from there. They had me sign a paper that attested to the fact that my smoke alarm was paid for by the federal government. It just doesn't get any better than that. I'm sitting here, now, at my home, typing and looking up at my federally provided smoke detector and thinking, "Wow, my taxes go for something after all."

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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