Tuesday, October 30, 2007

An Alarming Night, July 2007

The duties of breakfast, checking out guests, cleaning up the kitchen, working in my office, and checking in new guests for the evening all went by uneventfully on this rainy summer day. Everyone was in bed at a decent time, and I went too, with a final check on windows and doors after hearing distant thunder. I fell soundly asleep only to be awakened by a very loud noise and bright flashes of lightning. I bolted out of bed and realized the noise was the house fire alarm. I grabbed my cell phone that said 4:00 a.m., threw on my robe, and opened my door to even more deafening noise. I ran through the darkened house to the kitchen where the alarm panel is located and tried in vain to turn the blasted thing off, with no luck. Wondering whether I’d forgotten the turn off number, I noticed the panel’s code was telling me there was water in the basement. A quick check proved there was none. I tried again to silence the alarm, to no avail. Then I picked up the house phone, and it was dead. By now it was pouring rain, and there were even more brilliant lightning flashes. I made a hurried check through the house to see if a bolt had possibly hit us. Everything seemed normal, except now the guests were making their way downstairs to check out the noise problem. (Unfortunately, we had a completely full guest list.) Feeling self-conscious at my disheveled appearance, I greeted them and suggested it would be less deafening back in their rooms with the doors closed. I assured them that I believed we simply had a malfunctioning alarm and not to worry. They all complied, going back to their rooms, while I frantically called Greg, my alarm guy. Remarkably, he called back within seconds. With the alarm still blaring, he walked me through some steps to shut it off. It didn’t work. He finally figured that we must have taken a shock wave from a nearby lightning strike that followed the phone lines. We would have to dismantle the alarm boxes, pull the batteries, and throw the breaker, not necessarily in that order! All of this equipment is in the basement, and cell phones don’t work inside the thick stone walls of the house. So, getting soaking wet, I stood at the exterior doors of the basement exit with my cell phone in hand, relaying messages from Greg to Darin, who was doing the actual work. In about an hour there was finally blissful silence.

All told, we lost our phone switch, part of the alarm, and a laptop computer to the underground lightning strike. Thankfully, we had a wonderful, patient technician—even in the middle of the night.

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