Friday, October 13, 2017

Never a dull moment...

Several times over the past couple of months, we've been rudely awakened (always late at night or very early in the morning, of course -- never in the afternoon...!) by the ear-piercing, heartstopping shrieks of the condo building's fire alarm -- both out in the hallway as well as within each unit (including ours).

Each time it's happened, we've had to hastily throw on our clothes, jacket & shoes, grab purse/wallet & cellphones & hustle down the stairs (conveniently located directly across the hall from our unit) to wait for the arrival of the fire department. (The elevators return to ground level and will not operate until the alarm is reset.) 

(Each time this happens, it takes a while to get the elevators back into service again... and so, each time, we've wound up climbing back UP the stairs to return to our unit once the all-clear was given. Thank goodness we only live on the 4th floor!!)   

Each time, the fire department investigates, but (so far, at least so far as dh & I know) has not been able to find any obvious reason why the alarm was triggered. (One theory: dirt particles/debris in the ductwork being blown from hallway vents located close to a smoke detector.) It's comforting to know that there was no fire -- but NOT comforting not to have any answers as to why these alarms keep happening. In most cases, the system indicated the problem was on our floor (!). A little too close to home...   

After the first two alarms, the fire department advised us that hereafter, we would be charged $500 per truck per false alarm visit (and they usually bring two trucks for a building this size). (Fee increases coming up, no doubt...!) We noticed there were a lot fewer people who evacuated than there were units in the building -- and fewer coming outside with every alarm.  The danger of too many false alarms, of course, is that people start ignoring them, and that can be dangerous when an emergency really does happen.

(Sidenote: I guess it's one way to meet your neighbours, albeit perhaps not under the best circumstances...!  There's one young mother who has evacuated with her adorable baby girl every time. The kid seems totally unfazed by it all, hasn't cried or seemed startled at all -- and totally charmed dh by smiling broadly at him.)  

Tuesday morning, just after 7 a.m., we were woken with a start by the fire alarm, AGAIN.

Except this time, it wasn't entirely a false alarm.

Once again, there was no smoke and no fire.  Thankfully. 


Something -- we're not sure what -- set off the sprinklers in a unit on our floor -- directly outside the area where several of the earlier alarms had been pinpointed. One of our neighbours went down the hall to check and said the water in that unit was at least ankle deep. We stood in the parking lot outside and watched in disbelief as a stream of water cascaded off the balcony and down the side of the building. As soon as it seemed safe, we hustled back upstairs to check on our own unit. 

Fortunately for us, we are at the opposite end of the hall from where the sprinklers went off -- far enough away that no water came close to our unit.  Unfortunately, a number of units in that wing were damaged by the water, as well as units below them, and also the small lounge area beside the main entrance to the building. 

Within a couple of hours, cleanup and restoration crews were hard at work;  huge fans have been running in the hallway (and presumably inside some of the units) 24/7 to help dry out the soaked drywall and carpeting (and, hopefully, ward off mould).  (Thankfully, we're far enough down the hall that the noise is barely noticeable.)  During the day, there's hammering and workers' voices as they tear out damaged drywall and flooring.  I couldn't help but remember how we spent FIVE WEEKS this past winter chasing down the property manager (who has since been fired & replaced) to repair the small section of damaged ceiling in our entryway closet after the sprinkler system pipe sprang a leak. I reminded one of the board members we know about this incident, because I can't help but wonder whether there's some sort of connection to be made? It's hard to believe it's merely a coincidence that there were two problems with the sprinkler system on the same floor less than nine months apart.

So yes, you don't have to worry about shovelling snow or mowing the lawn or squirrels in the attic in a condo -- but there is the possibility of stuff like this happening. Never a dull moment...! 


  1. Me thinks you have a smoker in your building. Out of curiosity, are there still air fresheners in your hallway? If yes and the alarms/units correlate, I suspect the next thing you'll see is people sniffing outside the door. Followed by some hefty fines and potentially a lawsuit.

    We had a unit owner start a fire outside in the front of the building. Despite his protests, we were able to track it down to him specifically. Because the fire was considered an arson attempt, he spent the night in jail. The unit went up for sale shortly after that.

    1. We do have smokers, it's not a non-smoking building (unfortunately...!). We haven't had any issues recently with our neighbours across the hall that I blogged about last year (thankfully!), and the air fresheners have not been there in a long time. I don't think the girl in the unit where the sprinkler went off smokes. One reason we think there's dirt/debris in the ducts is the wallpaper on the wall opposite the big vent down the hall (outside the unit where the sprinkler went off) is dirty; you can see the difference. Hoping to ask some more questions when we next run into the lady we know who's on the board. The next owners' meeting should be interesting...!

  2. Ok, so due to my current (not particularly exciting) job which is working within a small team that manages all of the facilities for a large building, I'm thinking there should be evidence that the fire suppression and alarm system is regularly checked. I'm in the UK so don't know what the laws are where you live. If there is debris within the venting system, this should be rectified - no idea how old your property is, but relatively new properties can have the potential to have dust and debris caused from construction works.

    Aside from all of that, I did chuckle rather ruefully at your point of getting to meet the neighbours - who needs an icebreaker when you're all turfed out of your properties in the middle of the night? Hope you do get some answers - I would be wanting them and I'd be billing the company responsible for the maintenance of these systems if the fire crew are going to be billing you all!

  3. After the first couple of false alarms, we just had the annual alarm testing done for the whole building, including the alarms in each individual unit. If you weren't home, they accessed your unit (we were given advance notice). I don't remember this being done last year, but then the previous property management company was pretty lax on a number of matters...! There are monthly tests done as well. It's a relatively new building, about two years old, so yes, it's quite possible there could still be dust & debris from construction lurking in the ducts.