a public service message

January 16th, 2012 | Uncategorized


It’s 12 below zero this morning. I was just trying to heat up my frigid basement office with the space heater I’ve been using since 1987. I’m always a little nervous about this aging appliance and feel like I should probably replace it, but it works fine and so I don’t. But this morning I left the room for a couple minutes and when I came back the thing was in FLAMES. Flames and black smoke. I unplugged it and put it outside in the snow. Back in my office, noxious fumes and a scattering of black ash over everything.

Now I have lugged my computer upstairs, and set up a little office in the living room. I already have a drawing station here.

I’m very glad I did not burn my house down.

97 Responses to “a public service message”

  1. Jessie says:

    Oh no! I’m glad you and your house are ok! I hope you keep your work someplace safe. It is a national treasure. And I hope you’ve warmed up.

  2. Pam I says:

    Fire/scary. I was in one once, so now I always know where all the exits to a building are. Sometimes that means just one, back down five floors of stairs, and I twitch till I get out again.

    Glad this one was just a warning.

    Pam x

  3. Kate L says:

    Glad you escaped! Burning Down the House should only be an 80’s song, not how you start the day! πŸ™

  4. Cathy says:

    So glad you didn’t burn anything and hope your lungs will be ok! Thanks for the public service message. Space heaters are scary, and I have just checked to make sure I unplugged the oil-based one I use in my bedroom.

    Earlier this month, my husband nearly caused a kitchen fire. He had wanted to boil some eggs and set the flame way too high on the stove, then went to the basement. I was showering and had no idea he’d done any of this. When I left the bathroom, I smelled something burning and raced to the kitchen on my recently injured left knee (torn meniscus and possible subluxating patella–I speak to an ortho. surgeon tomorrow). I found find broken eggs smashing against each other violently in a pot with much of the water gone, plus egg goo sprayed all over the stove, countertop, spice rack, and cannisters. As I was taking all this in, the smoke detector suddenly went off and nearly gave me a heart attack.

  5. Ellen Orleans says:

    Understatement of the Day: “I’m very glad I did not burn my house down.”

    Me too.

    As a thank you to the mysterious, random (?) forces of the universe, I think I’ll reinstall my second smoke detector today.

    Stay safe. Ink well.

  6. Robin B says:

    I’m glad you’re ok!

  7. Anna in Albuquerque says:

    I’m glad you found the burning heater in time and that you, Holly, Dr. Winokur, your house and the new book are all okay.
    It’s time for an HVAC remodel, Alison. It’s worth every penny.

  8. Andi says:

    I admit, reading this triggered my post-fire PTSD a wee bit. Sigh. It’s a long road back, so anything you can do to have your house NOT burn down is good. Happy installing, Ellen, and Alison, please no more space heaters. You don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone, believe me…

  9. Ben says:

    Glad you’re OK. Sometimes it’s amazing how close we all come to disaster while managing to escape the worst.

  10. So good to hear no damage was done, to yourself or your home! Thank you for not burning your house down and generally for existing.

  11. Andrew B says:

    I, too, am very glad you didn’t burn your house down. Hope the cleanup downstairs is not too bad.

  12. hairball_of_hope says:

    Wow. Glad you, Hol, Dr. W., and your house are all ok. This does raise the question of smoke detectors; do you have them, are they installed in all the right locations, and are they functional?

    They should be installed on every level of the home (including your basement office!), near sleeping quarters, and the kitchen. Change the batteries annually; I change mine around the December holidays.

    Smoke detectors have a finite lifespan, typically ten years. If you’ve been using a 25 year old heater, your smoke detectors are probably just as ancient and need replacement. Pronto.

    Another question comes to mind… do you have a UL-rated fire safe for your drawings (minimum 1 hr/350 degree rating for paper, 1 hr/125 degree for computer media)? 30 lbs of your lasest art could be reduced to a few ounces of ash in minutes.

    (… goes back to thanking the universe that this story had a good ending …)

  13. Cathy says:

    HoH is good to remind us about having sufficient smoke detectors and regularly changing their batteries–our fire dept. recommends doing this whenever we change the time on our clocks–and has made me aware for the first time that smoke detectors themselves should be replaced periodically.

    AB, the expense of a fire safe to protect your artwork should be tax deductible, I imagine–and worthwhile even if it isn’t.

  14. Thanks everyone. And Andi, especially–very sorry about the PTSD. SHould have been more considerate.

    And Cathy, what a scary egg situation! HOpe your knee is healing.

    Also, yes, those battery operated smoke detectors have a shelf life! I’ve had some up for over 10 years, dutifully replacing the batteries annually, but they stopped working at some point!

    Who can keep track of all this?

  15. HoH
    I do have two fireproof safes, but they’re full up, and all my art for the new book is just sitting out on a table. At least it’s all scanned into the computer and backed up several times.

  16. Sylvie says:

    Glad you/yours/home are ok!

    I have smoke detectors in all the appropriate places, and am fortunate to have a single-level home with plentiful escape hatches in every room.

    Still, having heard of several house fires where dogs died of smoke inhalation or flames, I had a security system put in last year. I hardly ever turn on the door/window alarms. I have five dogs, and they are plenty effective “intruder alarms” and actually “intruder deterrents”. But it gives me some comfort that the fire alarm connection to the central office/fire department callout operates automatically, 24 hours a day, whether I arm the system or not.

    In a fast fire, not sure all the dogs would be able to be saved, but in a slower fire, it may make the difference. The house has stickers on it alerting to the presence of animals on site and giving their numbers/species.

  17. Eva says:

    Whew! Adding to the general thanks to the universe for keeping y’all safe from harm.

    If it hasn’t been noted elsewhere, I recommend practicing escaping under duress (fire/natural disaster, etc), in other words, a fire drill, (minus the screaming alarm that usually induces unnecessary palpitations), once a year, right after testing/changing the fire detector batteries. I like the idea of changing the batteries when the time clock is changed…not a bad way to keep track of it.

    How does one keep track of it all? With a little help from our friends?

    I understand in some states there’s a requirement that fire detectors be wired into the electrical system, with a battery back-up. That way if one fails the other will, hopefully, function. Does anyone else know about this?

    Keep on being safe everyone!

  18. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Eva (#17)

    The NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) code requires hardwired smoke detectors with battery backup in new construction. Most municipalities incorporate the NFPA code and NEC (National Electrical Code) as part of their local building code.

    Some folks recommend changing the battery at the autumn time change, which usually occurs around National Fire Prevention Month (October). I’ve found that folks who do the time change battery switch sometimes change them twice a year (overkill) or can’t remember if they change them in the spring or fall.

    I change the batteries in the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in December around the holidays, it’s easy for me to remember. I also change my watch battery at that time. I write the date and voltage on the detector battery with a Sharpie (yeah, I’m anal enough to measure the battery with a meter).

    (… goes back to her anal existence …)

  19. hairball_of_hope says:

    @AB (#14)

    Beware the ‘test’ button on smoke detectors, it only tests the electronic circuitry, not the detector itself.

    Commercial and industrial smoke detectors are tested using a spray can synthetic smoke. That’s the only real way to test that a smoke detector works. You can get it from an industrial safety supply company.

    As for backups, and backups of backups… I hope your backup plan includes off-site backup, and that you’ve actually tested restoring data to make sure the backups are good and are backing up the correct data. Belt+suspenders+crazy glue.

    Hell, you’re anal (and plenty retentive, hyphen or no), I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir.

    (… goes back to thawing out from yesterday’s low temps …)

  20. Kate L says:

    A.B., if you do end up replacing your smoke detectors, you might want to consider putting up a carbon monoxide detector, also. They are the same size as a fire detector, and also go up on a wall or ceiling.

  21. NLC says:

    When I was a kid we were taught that you always check your smoke alarms and their batteries “every Mother’s Day”.

    (Fortunately My Beloved was taught the same thing [maybe it’s a Hoosier thing…] but I don’t think we’ve missed a check since we’ve been together.)

  22. Therry and St. Jerome says:

    Cathy, are you okay? Did it take much to clean up the egg goo? Is significant other sufficiently chastened? How did the consult with the ortho surgeon go?

    alison, thank you for surviving. Living National
    Treasures should not rely on 80’s era space heaters. And Kate L, thanks for remembering the Talking Heads. Still one of my favorite bands, esp considering the tripe that’s out there now, and that may be too dismissive of tripe.

  23. Kate L says:

    Loathe as I am to hijack this blog and its discussion of life and death, fire and ice, I had something of a first, today. My first anonymous hate mail arrived at noon, in an envelope with no return address. Inside was a xerox of my recent pro-LGBT rights letter to the Smallville Bugle Dispatch. On the xerox were the words, “Get a Life!”, scrawled in felt tip pen. Ha! And, I thought hearing about A.B.’s close call and getting my third annual mammogram were going to be the highlights of the day!

  24. hairball_of_hope says:

    @AB (#14)

    I almost forgot… do you have fire extinguishers (plural!) in the house? You should have them at minimum by the entry/exit to the boiler room/area, kitchen, and attic. You should also have them in close proximity to any location where you might be working with heat sources (I keep one next to the workbench where I solder and do electronics work).

    You don’t want fire extinguishers deep inside the room because you should fight a fire with a safe clear exit path at your back, and you don’t want to reach over a burning stove or workbench to get to the extinguisher. Of course, your first call should be 911 if it appears the conflagration is beyond your ability to douse it with an extinguisher.

    Extinguishers are classified by the types of fires they can put out, but the classes/ratings vary by country. The US NFPA classes are: A (paper), B (flammable liquids/grease/oil), C (electrical), and D (flammable metal).

    An all-purpose A-B-C dry chemical extinguisher is what you want for home; the smallest being a 1-A:10:B:C that weighs about three pounds and can be easily handled by adults and most kids about 8 years old and up. A larger one might be appropriate for a boiler/furnace room.

    Just as Eva (#17) recommends practicing escape, folks should also practice using the extinguisher (without discharging it, of course). Pop it from the mounting bracket and use a sweeping motion from side-to-side aiming at the base of the fire. In the event of a real fire, you’d pull the pin and squeeze the handles together to activate the extinguisher.

    End of public safety announcement. Hugs to Andi and hoping that soon she will be home in her new house (and home in her heart).

    (… goes back to a rainy day, thankful it’s not sleet or snow …)

  25. Cathy says:

    Therry and St. Jerome, thanks for your concern. I didn’t worsen the problems with my left knee by running toward the kitchen, but learned today that I need arthroscopic surgery (no surprise there, as I cannot stand still on that leg for more than a minute). Cleaning up the egg goo was a HUGE chore–it had aerosolized, and the eggs were not fully cooked, so we had to disinfect so much stuff. I began this chore myself, then passed it off to my husband when he came upstairs. And he was indeed quite chastened. As a young adult, he had caused serious smoke damage to his parents’ kitchen when, instead of turning off a burner under a frying pan, he pushed the wrong button on the electric range. Perhaps he should limit his cooking to whatever can be microwaved.

    Agree with you about the Talking Heads. I saw David Byrne at the Birchmere in Alexandria, VA, a few years ago, and he STILL makes most other musicians just seem pathetic.

    Hoh, thanks for details about using extinguishers. I wonder if the ones I have are too old and need replacing.

  26. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Cathy (#25)

    The NFPA code defines inspection and service intervals for various types of extinguishers. While these requirements are intended primarily for commercial and industrial settings, home users should heed them as well. Insurance companies and local building code requirements mandate records be kept of the inspections/service for commercial/industrial users.

    Fire extinguishers are inspected monthly; the inspection is basically a check that the pressure gauge reading is still in the green ‘OK’ zone, there are no signs of damage, the tamper seal is intact, and the extinguisher location is not obstructed. The person doing the inspection (usually a building maintenance worker) signs off on the annual hang tag. A home user should look at the same items.

    There’s an annual inspection performed by a qualified extinguisher service company which includes the above and weighing the extinguisher, they affix a new hang tag for the monthly inspections.

    The biggies for a dry chemical extinguisher are the 6 and 12 year inspections and servicing, depending on whether or not the extinguisher is considered rechargeable. A non-rechargeable extinguisher is required to be taken out of service and disposed of at 12 years. For rechargeables, the 6 year inspection/servicing requires disassembly of the extinguisher, replacement of the valve, and refill of chemical and propellant by a qualified fire extinguisher service company. The 12 year inspection/servicing also includes hydrostatic pressure testing of the cylinder. Keep in mind that a fire extinguisher is under pressure, and a cylinder rupture would be very dangerous (think small bomb with shrapnel, and/or unguided missile projectile), hence the hydrostatic pressure testing requirement.

    In actual practice, it’s often more cost-effective to simply replace small dry chemical extinguishers than to service them. For larger extinguishers, and/or for buildings with many extinguishers, servicing is usually the way to go.

    For a home user, I suggest replacing extinguishers at the 12 year mark. The NFPA requires all dry chemical extinguishers made before 1984 removed from service.

    Two extinguisher stories… computer rooms in commercial settings are often equipped with special automatic gas flood extinguishing systems. The gas displaces oxygen. (Dry chemical extinguishers are not used on sensitive electronic equipment because the powder is corrosive.) Because the gas flood system displaces oxygen, there are warning lights/horns that go off when the system is activated so personnel can evacuate the room.

    Prior to being outlawed due to ozone depletion, Halon gas flood systems were very common in computer rooms. I used to work in a computer room with a Halon system that had a large red Halon manual discharge button in close proximity to the smaller red button that activated the room exit door (the door had an electronic lock that required a passcode on the entry side). We had a few (expensive) instances of someone accidentally hitting the Halon discharge button instead of the room exit button until they put a hinged plastic cover over the Halon button.

    In one computer room I worked in, the Halon tanks were located in the room itself. One tank developed a pinhole leak, which turned the tank into the unguided missile projectile I referred to above (it’s the same principle as a rocket engine, the gas flows out of a hole and the cylinder travels in the opposite direction of the flow). It ripped free of its wall rack mounting and flew around the room (and I do mean flew) whacking into the computer gear, as employees scrambled out the door to safety. We watched the destruction through the double-glazed window for at least half an hour. When the cylinder lost enough gas that it could no longer fly, it spun around crazily on the floor. After that expensive disaster, all our computer rooms had the Halon tanks relocated to steel cages outside the rooms, with extra strapping and anchoring.

    My current employer doesn’t bother with gas flood systems. They installed conventional fire sprinklers in the computer rooms. The cost of installing and maintaining gas flood systems wasn’t cost-effective, especially since computer hardware gets replaced every few years. If there’s a sprinkler activation, they’ll just upgrade a little earlier.

    (… goes back to thinking about those days when one gigabyte of hard drive storage was six feet high and weighed about 800 lbs …)

  27. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Cathy (#25)

    re: limiting your husband to microwaving

    A tale from the cube farm:

    One of my colleagues brought in some hardboiled eggs around Easter last year. She put them in the fridge in the morning and decided to heat them in the microwave for lunch. She nuked them on a paper plate, then put the eggs and plate on her desk while she worked on her computer. All of a sudden one of the eggs exploded without warning. She screamed and emerged from her cube with hot hardboiled egg and shell in her hair and on her clothes. There was hardboiled egg all over her cube, papers, everything. It was a total mess to clean up, egg was in everything, right down to the paper clips and Scotch tape dispenser. We all helped her clean it up, and we joked that now the TSA was going to ban hardboiled eggs on flights.

    Her exploding egg was caused by nuking the egg in shell. The steam pressure built up inside the shell until it burst. Had she peeled the eggs first, there would have been no explosion, although I suggested for safety she should have peeled the eggs and dropped them in a styrofoam cup of water for nuking.

    Given your husband’s pyrotechnic track record, you might want to limit his kitchen activities to pouring a bowl of cold cereal and cutting raw vegetables.

    (… goes back to thinking about eggs in the John Waters classic Pink Flamingos …)

  28. hairball_of_hope says:


    If you’re suffering from Wikipedia Withdrawal Syndrome today because of their online protest against SOPA, you can still access them via the mobile site, or via your smartphone.


    Thus ends today’s public service message.

    (… goes back to life in the cube farm …)

  29. Diamond says:

    Hairball #28 – True, but it does feel a bit like crossing a picket line!

  30. Therry and St. Jerome says:

    My husband and I once visited our family’s house in Maine after the power had been turned off. We were feebing out in the living room, huddled around the fire, unaware that the power switch was in the pantry. We were hungry and decided to roast some eggs in the ashes of the fire, with predictable results. Admittedly, the eggs did not hydrolize all over the living room — but the yolk exploded and caromed all over the room, much to the delight of our two Siamese cats.

    I am off to the great world to purchase new smoke alarms and new fire extinguishers and a car safety kit. I’m feeling a pinch in my mortality suit.

    St. Jerome says Hi and goes back to inhaling his Mack and Jack Weruva cat food.

  31. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Therry & St. Jerome (#30)

    Pick up a carbon monoxide detector while you’re at the mortality-avoidance counter.

    CO detectors also have a limited life span, ranging from two to seven years, five years is typical. CO detectors should be located in the bedroom area(s).

    Just like their smoke detector cousins, the ‘TEST’ button doesn’t actually test the detector itself, just the electronics. Likewise, there are calibrated spray cans of CO that are used to test commercial CO detectors, but they are harder to find at industrial safety supply houses. I expect this to change in short order, the NFPA requirement to test them with calibrated CO kicked in beginning 2012.

    (… goes back to imagining Mo at Home Depot with a shopping cart full of detectors, extinguishers, first aid kits, etc., all while kvetching about how Sydney is making fun of her safety paranoia …)

  32. Jessica Bessica says:

    I just went and unplugged mine. I’ll just cook to keep warm.

  33. Andi says:

    Hey Alison,

    No worries – if I freaked out every time someone mentioned fire or their house burning down, I’d be on Red Alert all the time. My friends constantly say stuff like, “How’s your day? Putting out fires?” just to help me desensitize. (And also make me laugh about life in general.)

    HoH’s suggestions are all good ones, and I’ll add a few from personal experience…

    In a really hot fire (as in wildfire rather than typical house fire) “fire proof” safes will heat up to the point where they incinerate everything inside. In the Four Mile fire, many of our safes actually melted. Hm. So it’s actually best to have some kind of off-site storage for the really precious/archival stuff.

    Second (deep breath here, Cat People) you need to have a plan to get your cat/s out of the house. Dogs tend to run out of a house in a fire; cats tend to hide. Many cats are lost in fires because of this.

    I was advising someone just yesterday about this. Have a Cat Rescue Drill and practice getting your cat in a crate (throw a blanket over her, etc.) before there’s an actual emergency. Imagine trying to coax your kitty out from under the bed during a fire – it’s darn near impossible.

    Another great idea is to have a big dog crate around, (get one used at the Humane Society) then you can toss the blanket over the cat and stuff the whole shebang in the dog crate and get out of there. Miz Mittens will be pissed off, but alive.

    In some ways I was fortunate that I was on vacation when my house burned down. I had an SUV full of my favorite clothes, and two seasons worth of gear (I was kayaking in the chilly Pacific Northwest.) And of course, I had my Nellie Dog, the most important thing in my house. Given the choice between losing Nellie and losing all my stuff, I can honestly say I would have said, “Take the stuff, leave the dog.”

    My other piece of advice for everyone is make a list of what you’d grab in an emergency like this, and keep it handy. It’s an excellent contemplation – What would I take? What would I leave behind? The time to do this is BEFORE your house is on fire! If you have a list, you can run through your house like an automaton and grab things while your body is chock full of adrenaline and your brain has decided to check out. That way, you don’t end up with your favorite spice rack in the car but the box with your birth certificate, grandma’s jewelry, etc. back in the house.

    Lastly, don’t obsess too much about it. My house has burned down twice in my lifetime, and I refuse to sink into fear. I put my precious stuff in boxes that are near a door, figure out how I’d get out in the middle of the night, and then sleep peacefully. I know that nothing I do can change the course of the Great Hand of Fate if it swoops my way and clears me out again. As my friend Sandy the Buddhist says, “Such is the nature of impermanence.” As her teenage daughter likes to reply, “Yeah Mom, but impermanence sucks.”

    Brushes with fire like this are good wake up calls, I think. They make us think about what is really important, what we think we “can’t live without,” and how fortunate we are to have what we have. I think they also make us more conscious, more aware of the delicate balance that is our day-to-day life. Each day is so precious, each hour of peace and “normal” life such a gift. Fire can erupt in our lives at any second, non? So it is this moment that is such a treasure. We can savor it like a fine piece of bacon chocolate! Life=Nom, nom…

    Wishing everyone a day of peaceful normalness, and may your incendiary activities be limited to warm fireplaces and creative, fiery thoughts,


  34. Therry and St. Jerome says:

    Andi, thanks for the real-life advice. I went out and loaded up with safety eequipment, including, dear Hairball, a carbon monoxide detector. I have to say that if there were a carpenter ant detector, it would be going off all th e time, out-shrilled by its companion mouse detector. St. Jerome has decidedly given up the honor of being the House Mouser. Live and let live, he seems to say, although he was carrying around a mouse the other day, showing it where all the neat stuff was hidden. “Hey, MY food is in CANS, ” he seemed to say.

  35. Alex the Bold says:

    In response to the question of who can keep track of the expiry of smoke detectors … Mo. Of course.

    It’s odd how often I find myself thinking, “What Would Mo Do?”

    I am ALWAYS so paranoid about space heaters. I will call home and ask one of the housemates, “Could you check my room to make sure I shut off my space heater?”

    I’m waiting for the day an untended cup of tea bursts into flames on me. “Hot tea,” the fireman will say, shaking his head sadly. “The number one cause of house fires. Ten times more dangerous than an open container of gasoline.”

  36. Cathy says:

    Wow, such great advice in this chat thread! I’ll be heading to the locally owned hardware store this week to get smoke and CO detectors, fire extinguishers, and possibly some means of escaping from windows on the upper floors of our home. Andi, I’m sad that hard experience has made you so wise about making escape plans in advance, which you are kind to share with us. My 15-year-old arthritic cat Fox probably cannot run too far or too fast from me, nor struggle too mightily as I shove him into his crate, but best to be prepared to cover him with a towel anyway.

    Years ago, when I edited a newsletter for an association of human relations consultants who traveled a lot, I reprinted a great article by a fire chief on what to do if you’re in a hotel fire (several hotel fires had been in the news at that time). I’ve just googled and found it here: http://www.onebag.com/popups/hotel-fires.pdf

    Am laughing at advice for limiting my husband’s risk of harm by attempts to cook, plus all the stories of airborn egg parts. Perhaps I should just buy packets of astronaut chow at the Air and Space Museum and say that’s that.

  37. Suzanonymous says:

    I’m glad you and your cartoons and companions are safe! Phew!

  38. Aunt Soozie says:

    Horror alert… this post references accidents that two close friends of mine experienced… don’t read if sensitive to such… but DO take this Aunt Soozie advice… if something in your home is burning??? don’t try to pick it up to take it outside!!! read on if you’re not dissuaded by my ominous warning…

    Hi Alison! So glad to hear that you and yours are safe!!! Would like to share a concern… your response to pick up the burning thing and take it outside is the usual first thought… however, I have two friends who tried that and both were severely burned.

    One had a kerosine heater self ignite. He picked it up to take it outside and in the process burned his arms and the living room curtains caught on fire. The entire house ended up gutted but more importantly… he was seriously injured.

    Another friend was clarifying olive oil and forgot it was on the stove. By the time he remembered to check it, the oil had ignited. He threw a lid on the pot and then picked it up to take it outside. The handle of the pot was so hot that it burned him even through potholders… he dropped the pot… there was actually a hole melted in his carpeting where the pot landed and the oil splashed up causing serious burns on his arms, hands and legs.

    So please!!! Anyone reading this… I know the impulse is to remove the burning item from your home… but better to assess if you can extinguish a fire… if you can, do so, if not, or if you have any doubt, just get out. Don’t ever try to pick up and move something that has ignited. It’s not worth the risk!!! Thankfully our beloved AB is okay… but word to the wise… okay? Love, Aunt Soozie channeling every Jewish mother.

  39. hairball_of_hope says:

    All this talk of expiry dates prompted me to check my safety gear at home. They all have date of manufacture labels on them, but the labels are small and hard to see, and often located in inconspicuous areas, such as the back of the smoke detector. I will be making P-Touch labels for these items that will be legible and visible without having to climb a ladder.

    So the answer to the question about who can keep track of these things is “Everyone.” All you need is a Sharpie or label maker to label the detector with its manufacture date and/or expiry date in an easily visible location.

    I had one fire extinguisher manufactured before 1984, it will go to the Sanitation Department special waste collection (it’s a pressurized cylinder, can’t throw it into the garbage or recycling, and besides, someone may retrieve it from the trash and rely on it for an emergency). The others are eight years old, within the 12 year lifespan for a dry chemical extinguisher.

    My CO detector was manufactured and installed in 2004 when the NYC law mandating CO detectors was enacted. I found out via the manufacturer (Kidde) that it is equipped with an end-of-life circuit that will beep. However, the manufacturer says it has a 7-year lifespan, so I will be replacing it soon before it starts to beep. I also found out that UL-listed CO detectors manufactured since 2009 are required to have EOL warning circuitry to alert users to replace the unit.

    One of my smoke detectors was from 1998, it will be replaced. Note that ionization smoke detectors contain a small amount of a radioactive isotope, Americium 241, so disposal in regular trash pickup is probably illegal. Your local laws may vary, but I’m pretty sure I will have to bring the old one to the Sanitation Department special waste collection site. It would be nice if retail stores accepted them for recycling as they do for rechargeable batteries, but I don’t think they take smoke detectors. Time to call 311 and ask what to do with it.

    (… goes back to her mortality avoidance strategy, Γ  la Mo …)

  40. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Therry & St. Jerome

    Have you tried Merrick for the critters? They make human-grade cat and dog food, and every animal I’ve ever fed with Merrick goes nuts for it. It does not smell or look like pet food, good for those of us with queasy stomachs who have a hard time with “Guts and Glop” pet food.

    (… goes back to channelling Mo …)

  41. Anna in Albuquerque says:

    My ex was an insurance underwriter for a time and taught me to unplug the toaster, coffee maker and other small appliances after I finished using them. She said that these often cheaply made items were a common cause of fires and should be monitored when in use and unplugged when not. It’s an easy habit to acquire – pour the coffee, pull the plug.

  42. Anonymous says:

    Totally unrelated: has anyone seen Pariah? I want to go see it this weekend, but have PTSD and graphic violence triggers it. Are there any scenes that would be problematic for me?

  43. j.b.t. says:

    That was me, above – not anon.! Haven’t been posting much since I started grad school last fall, but I do check in to see what folks are up to. πŸ™‚

  44. Kate L says:

    Anna (#41) Once, when I was working as a petroleum geologist in New Orleans, I woke up to find one of my stove burners still on from the night before! I’m now back in Smallville, living in the home I grew up in (and to think, anonymous anti-LGBT rights letter-writers tell me to get a life! Ha!), and I find that when I leave thru the kitchen door, I do what I always saw my late mother do… make sure that the stove burners are off, while counting down out loud, “Off! Off! Off! Off!”. j.b.t (#43) You may have said this before, here, but what is your major? πŸ™‚

  45. Acilius says:

    @Kate #23 & 44: Good luck dealing with the anonymous hate mail. It’s obviously very scary to get such a thing delivered to you as evidence that someone who wishes you harm is prepared to go where you live and do something cruel. Have you talked to the police? If you haven’t, and especially if you have the names of any non-lousy police officers in Smallville, I urge you to alert them to the situation. There may not do anything to help you if you tell them, but they certainly won’t help you if they don’t know about it. And keep in mind, the same visitor may have left similar calling cards with other people. You may be updating them about someone they are already trying to find.

  46. rinky says:

    OMG. I am also very glad your house did not burn down. Also that you have lots of back up of your new book work – hopefully at someone else’s house too!- or on a cloud.

    We had an incident like that where we went into another room and came back to a smoking, scorched (timber lined) wall caused by one of those face enlarging mirrors focussing the sun’s light. – House would have burned down if we had not been home to notice. (I has walking around thinking – is gf burning incense?)

  47. rinky says:

    maybe you should leave a few ash spots on the new book just as a secret message to people who read this post! Then we can obsessively search the new book for the page that has it!

  48. Anna in Albuquerque says:

    Kate (#44) I do the same thing with the stove burners on the way out and I’m relieved that I only have to check once.
    As for my major(s) – B.A. – English Lit., Master of Library and Information Science (hi, Mo!), Master of Science in Oriental Medicine.

  49. Kate L says:


    Wow! I’m in awe (of all your majors, and the fact that you don’t have to stop and think, like me, during the day… did I remember to turn those burners off? πŸ™‚

  50. Kate L says:

    Anna… I couldn’t resist posting THIS LINK to the University of Washington librarians’ hit Lady Gaga impression from a few years ago!

  51. Therry and St. Jerome says:

    Hi Hairball — no, I haven’t tried Merrick for St. Jerome. Weruva looks like people food too, and St. J, as I’ve said, inhales the stuff and begs for more. When you wrote “critters” I assumed you were NOT talking about the carpenter ants and the mice.

  52. Anna in Albuquerque says:

    @ Kate L (#50)

    Very funny. 027.40207 (Dewey? Sure we do!)

  53. Meg Wallace says:

    Very very glad nothing got burned to the ground.

    Hardwired interconnected smokes and CO detectors, if you can afford it. They still have a dismally limited lifespan, and are wicked expensive, but…I was particularly glad of the CO detectors when my furnace vent got blocked by big snows a few years back. Wasn’t thrilled with getting up in the wee hours in the freezing cold to shovel it clear, but it seemed to beat the other option.

    Very very glad you and yours are all safe.

  54. Andrew B says:

    Re the side discussion of pet food, a good book is Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim, Feed Your Pet Right. Nestle is best known for having written Food Politics, about the ways that agricultural and food processing interests twist regulation in their favor. In Feed Your Pet Right, Nestle and Nesheim go looking for malfeasance in the pet food industry and don’t find any, at least not in the contemporary industry. It’s still interesting if you want to know more about what’s in your dog’s or cat’s glop.

    They provide a recipe for basic, nutritionally adequate, homemade dog or cat food. Finally, they note in passing that you can provide your cat with a nutritionally adequate diet by buying frozen mice, about nine a day, and defrosting them. They suggest purΓ©eing the mice (whole) in a blender to make them more palatable. Um, I think I’ll stick with commercial food, thanks.

  55. Minnie says:

    Hi Anonymous, I think you’ll be OK with “Pariah”.

    I’m pretty sensitive to violence and don’t remember any in this movie.

    I checked out some critical websites and see that there IS another, violent movie with the same name.

    Dee Rees’s film is touchingly human in the best sense, and decent.

  56. Minnie says:

    Wow, thank you – what a heads-up! Thank you everyone for sharing your experience and expertise. Yeah, aim that extinguisher at the bottom of the fire – its source.
    Big “whew”.

    I have my electric heater on a surge-protector and I turn it off if I leave the room – always, I hope!

    But today my toaster died stinkily, and the kitchen ceiling lightbulb socket won’t work, even with a new socket replacement. Yeeks.

    I quit using the dishwasher when it smelled like burning wood coming from behind it the last time I used it, and I’d felt compelled to stand by with the fire extinguisher for a while.

  57. Ready2Agitate says:

    omg my honeywell space heater has been plugged in (and turned off) all winter! why? lazy, I guess, or desensitized to the dangers of that – till now — and I have a 7-month old in the house!

    I miss all the fabulousness of you all.

    HoH, on the back of my heater is a label that says Date____, and there’s a stamp that says QC15. Hum?

    Andi, I always think of you when the topic is fire. There’s a woman/family in my city that had the same thing happen recently. I couldn’t think of much to offer her in terms of advice, besides reading your blog — which she found really helpful. Your advice above is great, and I think we need to do some thinking/planning along the lines you suggest. But first, unplug the dang space heater!

    Can someone also remind me where to pre-order the new book? (didn’t AB say something about how that helps get the book’s ratings up?)(maybe it’s somewhere in the upper right corner, mentor?….)

    [I don’t recall AB posting anything about pre-ordering and ratings, although folks should feel free to correct me…

    As far as where to pre-order, (and in keeping with the tone of recent discussions) I’d check with your friendly, local independent bookstore. My experience is that they are typically more than happy to do pre-orders like this.
    As a starting point, [HERE’S] the listing for AYMM at Indiebound.

    Finally, if you don’t have a store you can easily get to, virtually any on the on-line sellers.
    For example,
    [HERE’S] a link to the book’s page at Powell’s, complete with a pre-order link. –Mentor]

  58. Ready2Agitate says:

    oop – I guess that prolly just means Quality Control. I was sposta write the on the Date line, I guess.

  59. Anna in Albuquerque says:

    @ Minnie (#56)

    It would be quite a coincidence for three of your kitchen appliances to have electrical problems in a short time. Instead of standing by anxiously with a fire extinguisher, I suggest you get to the source of the problem, which may be your house wiring. Get an electrician to check ASAP. Something’s going on besides simultaneous warranty expirations.

  60. Diamond says:

    Without wishing to raise anyone’s fear levels still higher, another reason to plug out your appliances is the chance of lightning strike!

    Living in low-lying urban south Manchester, UK, I hadn’t given any thought to this possibility until a bolt of lightning hit our row of houses during a heavy but seemingly unexceptional storm.

    In my house the lightning zipped down a cable and kind of shot straight through the plug’s fuse to burn out a radio.

    Could have been a whole lot worse, and indeed was a whole lot worse in the house at the end of the row which got the first hit. Luckily the residents were in when it happened and could act quickly so only stuff was damaged.

  61. Kate L says:

    A.B. … it would only be human if you were still a little freaked out about what could have been with a possible house fire. But, fortunately, close only counts in horshoes and hand grenades, not in what could have been! πŸ™‚

  62. Duncan says:

    I’ll add my “Me too!” to the chorus of voices exulting in Alison’s escape from the fire.

    This isn’t your first brush with serious danger, though — I seem to recall an incident involving skis in subzero weather several years ago.

    But, Kate L: “Get a life!” as hate mail? I’ve gotten worse than that in comments in this blog. Several people have talked in this thread about desensitizing oneself to fears, like fear of fire. This is one reason why I favor online debate: among other things, it’s a way to desensitize yourself to the fear of being disagreed with, which so many people experience as hate and violent assault.

    But again, Alison: take good care of yourself. It’s a long time till spring.

  63. Ready2Agitate says:

    Oh Duncan, I disagree. An individual MAILING a news clipping to a person’s HOME ADDRESS is far more intrusive – and threatening – than disagreeing with someone in a public forum. And Kate has already had her share of jerks to contend with in her community, so I agree that she might consider contacting the local police, if they feel like a safe place to turn to.

  64. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Duncan (#62), R2A (#63)

    I agree with R2A. Having a disagreeable letter sent to one’s home (I hesitate to call it hate mail) carries a much higher implied level of threat than name-calling on a blog or other public forum. The mere act of acknowledging “We know where you live” by sending the letter to a person’s home (as opposed to writing a competing letter to the editor, or even sending the letter to a person’s work address) ups the ante. I know if I were Kate I’d be unnerved by it, especially in homophobic Smallville, where Kate has a pretty high LGBT public profile.

    (… goes back to putting white light around Kate …)

  65. hairball_of_hope says:


    From the “You Can Uke With The Ukuleles” Dept. comes word that Warren Buffett (yes, that Warren Buffett) played the ukulele and sang “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” for a Chinese lunar new year TV show extravaganza.


    Check out the enormous model railroad behind him. I guess rich boys get to indulge themselves in their favorite childhood toys (and in Buffett’s case, in the real deal, his company Berkshire Hathaway owns Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad).

    Gung Hay Fat Choy, y’all.

    (… goes back to opening her little red envelopes of cash… oh wait, these are chocolate gold coins. Chanukah gelt! …)

  66. Cathy says:

    Re #60–Lightning once zapped my mother’s microwave oven during a storm. Thus began my practice of keeping appliances unplugged when not in use and plugged into surge protectors otherwise (although I’ve known of so many situations when the latter did no good during a power surge).

  67. Therry and St. Jerome says:

    Cathy, I know how you feel! We left the ktichen window open during a very close thunderstorm, and a vast bolt of lightning came in the window and zapped our stove! The clock never worked again.

  68. Pam I says:

    Wouldn’t lightning be more likely to zap through an aerial than a mains socket? (Maybe you all have cable + no aerials these days.)

  69. Cathy says:

    Re #68, Pam, lightning strikes can attack through all sorts of wiring. A friend of mine was on the phone in the 1980s during a thunderstorm when suddenly the receiver flew away from her, she saw a blue bolt of light fly from the receiver to her head, and she felt as if someone had punched her in the ear. Fortunately, she seems not to have been injured (well, she did marry an awful man, so perhaps some brain damage occurred . . . here’s hoping she doesn’t read this blog).

  70. Anna in Albuquerque says:

    While we are on the topic of exciting electrical discharges, look for the Aurora Borealis tomorrow night even if you are south of where it can normally be seen. An extraordinary energy discharge from the Sun is headed our way. Year of the Dragon comes in with a bang. http://earthsky.org/space/strongest-solar-radiation-storm-in-7-years-expected-january-24

  71. Kate L says:

    Thanks for your concern, all! πŸ™‚

    Why did I become an LGBT-rights activist? I think that I can trace it to the story of Brandon Teena, the female-to-male transsexual who was killed in Wyoming in the early 90’s. I guess the impactof the movie on me was helped by the fact that I did not know his story, and the friend who took me to see it did not tell me the ending in advance. I guess we all have our road to Damascus moment…

  72. Kate L says:

    … and, ripped from the electronic interwebs, is THIS news release from a statewide Kansas LGBT organization that drives home the fact that Kansas is in need of LGBT activists. As the news release details, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has released a list of 51 of “out-of-date, unreasonable and burdersome” state laws in need of repeal. Not included in the governor’s list was the state law, still on the books, that makes same-sex relationships in the State illegal, despite the fact that the United States Supreme Court has already declared all such laws unconctitutional in the United States and its territories. I guess Governor Brownback expects President Santorum to eliminate such pesky details, or perhaps Governor Brownback expects President Gingrich to arrest the Supreme Court justices who made such a meddlesome ruling.

  73. Feminista says:

    Re: smoke alarms and fire extinguishers.

    I bought 3 smoke detectors,2 which also included CO detection,and a fire extinguisher. Once home and starting to assemble them found that the (incredibly small)expiration date had passed for all 3 smoke detectors! So they’re going back to the store,with a complaint to the manager. Meanwhile,after repeated search attempts,couldn’t find the manufacture date on the fire extinguisher. I went to the company website,kidde.com,for further help,but the manuf. date wasn’t where it was indicated in the manual,or any other place. So I emailed the help desk.

    Frustrating,yes,but some good news. I found out that our Metro Hazardous Materials site,which I’ve used before,accepts expired batteries,fire extinguishers,and smoke alarm. Nice that I only have to make one trip.

  74. Feminista says:

    #71 Kate L. Thanks for your continued work for LGBT rights under adverse circumstances. A minor correction: Brandon Teena was born,and spent all his life,in Nebraska. Matthew Shepard was from Wyoming.

  75. DeLand DeLakes says:

    OT to Ginjoint: I thought you would be amused to learn that my girlfriend recently changed her FB profile pic to a picture of young Kristy McNichol, resplendent in her ’70s shag. πŸ™‚

  76. Ready2Agitate says:

    (Oh I loved her too, back then…)

  77. spoilsport says:


    Has anyone seen the film Gensilent? http://stumaddux.com/GEN_SILENT.html

    I have a friend who works in hospice and she told me about this film where many who bravely came out of the closet decades ago, must go back into the closet to receive end of life care.

  78. Anna in Albuquerque says:

    Back to home fire hazards for a tick – When was the last time anyone cleaned the lint from the dryer exhaust duct?

  79. Kate L says:

    Anna (#78) You mean like the Farmer’s Insurance commercial suggests? A year or two ago, for the vent pipe itself. Every few months for the outside exhaust vent cover, where lint accumulation is more of a problem. Really, the lint builds up most in front of the removable lint filter in the clothes dryer, itself. Don’t worry too much. That guy in the Farmer’s Insurance commercials can be a little alarmist, esp. with respect to the threat to homeowners from obscure space junk.

  80. Kate L says:

    … then again, maybe that guy from Farmer’s Insurance was right about things falling from the sky.

    Tomorrow and the next day, a bright young post-doc from the University of Melbourne will interview for a position with the geology faculty at Moo U, here in Smallville.

  81. Kate L says:

    Yes, seriously! How can this young person be warned? Then again, we’ll be looking for a permanent chair, soon. A nice, middle-aged woman geologist would put the fear of Goddess in this place!

  82. Anna in Albuquerque says:

    Kate L (#79) There’s not much of a problem with the dryer duct if the lint can blow right through it and out the vent. But sometimes the duct gets kinked or develops a bend when the dryer creeps from vibration. Then you get a get a spot where flammable lint collects.

    I must be staying home too much. Why am I even thinking about this?

  83. Kate L says:

    Anna (#82) It’s those darn Farmer’s University commercials for Farmer’s Insurance! Now, I can’t think of anything but giant balls of lint and things falling from space! πŸ™‚

    …and, thinking of space, does anyone else hope that Rachel Maddow opens her show tonight on MSNBC wearing the space suit she wore last week during the segment on Newt Gingrich’s moon base plan? Hey, Star Trek: Voyager has been off the air for a while, and I need my Janeway fix!!!

  84. NLC says:

    …and speaking of Rachel Maddow.

    For interested parties, I see that RM will be appearing at the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester VT, on Mar 31 promoting her new book Drift. (For more details, click [HERE] and scroll down.)

    1] On the other hand…
    If you’re not planning to be near Southwestern Vermont near the end of March, this probably isn’t immediately useful to you. But I mention it because, presumably, this means she is going to be starting a tour for the book and may likely be somewhere more convenient for other folks.

    2] And on the other (third?) hand…
    If you do ever find yourself in that area, you definitely owe it to yourself to check out the Northshire Bookstore. Everything that you might hope from an independent bookstore Even setting aside the fact that it takes up the whole of an enormous Victorian house, it is genuinely amazing.

  85. Andrew B says:

    …and speaking of talks by authors.

    Some cartoonist will give a lecture in Brooklyn on February 23. I hear she’s pretty good.

  86. hairball_of_hope says:

    From the “Flaming Idiots Are Everywhere Dept.”:

    One of the outcomes of this thread is that I’ve been talking up smoke/CO detectors and fire extinguishers to folks at work.

    Yesterday, unsolicited, an IT manager on a project I’m working on told me that the new management in her building told all the tenants that they were not to use or touch the fire extinguishers.

    (Conversation verbatim)

    “Are you kidding? Why?” I asked.

    She said the building management told them that because they (the tenants) were not fully trained on how to use the extinguishers, they were to evacuate the building in the event of fire.

    “I asked them, ‘Even if it’s a really tiny fire?’ Yes, they said, don’t touch the fire extinguishers and just evacuate the building.”

    “That’s great, let the building burn because they’re worried about liability. What are you going to do?” I asked.

    “I guess I’ll use the fire extinguisher, then evacuate. And hire a good lawyer because I’ll get sued for using the fire extinguisher.”

    “Don’t forget to call 911 on your way out the door. Your data center has more fire potential than ordinary offices, and presents a greater disruption to business if it’s knocked offline.”

    “Not that they care!”

    “Do they have any plans to train the tenants?”

    “None that I’ve seen,” she said.

    “Here, I can train you in 30 seconds” I said as I yanked a nearby extinguisher from the wall bracket. I demoed the side-to-side sweep using the hose (this was a 5 lb. dry chemical extinguisher).

    “Aim at the base of the fire. Use short bursts. Go for full coverage of the potential fuel. Now you’re trained.”

    “Good. Now give me a piece of paper saying I’m trained and I’m covered!”

    We both laughed and got back to our meeting.

    (… goes back to wondering if Darwin was wrong, how could evolution produce so many stupid people and not have the species die off …)

  87. Kate L says:

    Dogs are moving upward on the adaptive ladder, too. It turns out the Mitt Romey’s dog, Seamus, who was famously forced to ride strapped onto the top of the Romey automobile, may have fled and sought asylum in Canada…

  88. Kate L says:

    … and, cats are evolving new abilities, too. THIS just in by way of the maddowblog. Note: The image of a cat’s skeleton that appears mid-way thru the video clip was taken in X-Ray wavelengths, of course. No space cat was harmed in the production of this video.

  89. Fester Bestertester says:


    I think there’s a different way of looking at this.

    Another way of phrasing the message from the management of your friend’s building would be:

    “If there’s a fire, just get out of the building as quickly as you can.”

    This seems quite sensible to me.

  90. Acilius says:

    @Fester #90: It would be perfectly sensible to say that in conversation, but translating it into a policy can be tricky. In conversation the listener could ask the questions h_o_h’s friend asked, and the initial speaker could say something about using common sense. But if you’re putting together some document that is supposed to cover every situation that might arise, you’re always likely to end up demanding that people do something stupid.

  91. Fester Bestertester says:

    I certainly agree about common sense, etc. But I guess my feeling is that, as a general rule of thumb, telling random folks to just get of the a building with a fire is the common-sense position.

  92. hairball_of_hope says:

    @Fester, Acilius

    Perhaps I didn’t explain the situation well. The building in question is an office building, not residential. The IT manager has a data center and offices in the building. The data center is a very large computer room (actually a large room and a few smaller ones) with lots of computers, routers, servers, phone PBX, video equipment, etc. It’s not at all uncommon for commercial electronics equipment of this sort to expire in a stinky, smoky haze where a fire extinguisher might be called upon.

    All public buildings in NYC are non-smoking (thank you Mayor Bloomberg!), so we’re not talking about an accidental ignition from tobacco addicts that engulfs a trash can and spreads to the file cabinets, for example. In that case you call 911 and run for the exits. We’re talking about the typical smoldering power supply from a computer server that craps out after four years of 24/7/365 service because the capacitors exploded. In this case, you may have to spritz the power supply with an extinguisher to make sure there’s no fire (we typically use CO2 extinguishers rated B:C because they don’t harm the electronics and they rapidly cool down the smoldering carcass).

    The new building management are being bone-headed about the extinguishers because they are worried about liability and being sued.

    (… goes back to wishing she gave the IT manager a bag of marshmallows to toast over the smoldering computers …)

  93. Fester Bestertester says:

    The new building management are being bone-headed about the extinguishers because they are worried about liability and being sued.

    Or, again, as a different way of phrasing the situation:

    “They are being very conservative in their approach because they are concerned for the life and safety of their tenants.”

  94. Anna in Albuquerque says:

    #86 Don’t forget to demo how pull the pin on the extinguisher first. People in a panic just squeeze the handle and it won’t work.

  95. Gosh. So late, but just saw this. Glad that no people, cats or art were injured by those flames.

  96. Feminista says:

    Happy to report that 10 year combo smoke alarm/CO detectors are installed. Now searching for a fire extinguisher that actually has the manufacture date printed on it.