Monday, October 15, 2012

We Didn't Start the Fire

Billy knows we didn't start the fire
When I lived in NY, every once in a while one of my roommates or I would set off the smoke detector in the apartment while cooking. These were never serious situations. Sometimes it just got really smokey and because apartments are so small, it's really not that difficult to set off the smoke detector.

If it ever happened, it was really simple to turn off. Using a magazine to fan the smoke away from the smoke detector usually worked, but if that wasn't enough I could open my windows and/or the front door and turn on a fan. It never took more than 20-30 seconds to stop the alarm. I also had the option to hop on a chair, unscrew the smoke detector, and remove the battery. But I could only do this if my ceiling was low enough, so I really just had the first method mastered.

Unfortunately, neither of these options worked for me on Saturday night. Sanrio was over at my place because I was cooking dinner. Old Guy had given me some pretty good recipes for some veggie sides that went along with some hanger steak, so I decided to give them a shot. The veggies were pretty simple to prep & cook, but I had never cooked hanger steak. I usually broil my steaks in the oven, but Epicurious told me to fry them in a pan on high heat with a little oil. No big deal...

Until my smoke detectors started going off.

It wasn't really that big of a situation at first, though the noise was much louder than typical fire alarms. Sanrio & I just took some magazines & started fanning the smoke furiously. Unfortunately, that wasn't working. The next step would be to open the windows, but I can't open windows in my apartment. It's a historical building in Philly, and the property management company isn't allowed to change it unless they go through a long & expensive approval process to change the windows on a 12-story building. So, I opened my front door and turned on a couple of fans.

About a minute or two had gone by, and I'm now starting to panic a little. These two extremely loud alarms are blaring, and my carbon monoxide detector started to go off as well. I was worried my neighbors were going to come by and complain. I decided to try removing the battery from the smoke detectors. To my absolute dismay, I found out both were connected directly to the electrical wiring in the building. There were no batteries to remove.

At this point, I am out of options. Before I could even formulate a plan of attack, I heard something terrible. It was the building's fire alarm. The smoke that I had been ushering into the hallway had been detected by the building's system. Not only are my two smoke detectors & carbon monoxide detector blaring, but the building fire alarm is going off. And it's not just an alarm. It's rattling off a recorded message for all tenants to find the nearest staircase & vacate the building. Fucking awesome. (Side note: You may be thinking, "What a dumbass. Of course the building fire alarm would go off." Well, no. It's not obvious. Please remember I was living in pre-war, walk-up buildings in NY. They are quaint & charming. Brokers don't even tell you which war it was "pre." Could've been the Spanish-American War for all I know, so these building alarms are something I never even associated with apartment complexes.)

Forget my neighbors on my floor, I've now caused an evacuation of my entire 12-story building. Sweet. I tried some last ditch fanning of the smoke (as if it was going to help), then decided to go downstairs. A few floors below me, I heard some kids (they looked like college students) asking if this was for real. I had to speak up. There was a girl there in her robe going down the stairs, and it's not like there was an emergency. So, I had to tell them it was my fault and there's no emergency. And in order for them to believe me, I had to tell them the shortened version of the story: "I was cooking, and I created too much smoke because I suck. Go back to your apartments."

As I'm descending the staircase, a couple other embarrassing points dawned on me:
  1. I'm going to have to face everyone in my building who had to evacuate.
  2. There's a steakhouse that occupies the second floor of my building. I probably caused an evacuation of the steakhouse.

I got to my lobby, where a crowd was gathered because they didn't want to wait on the sidewalk, and saw the firetruck already in front of my building. At least, they're fast. I walked out my front door, and I saw everyone from the steakhouse on the street. Yikes!

At that point, I found the doorman and told him what happened. Of course, I was trying to speak quietly so no one in the lobby would hear, but that was pointless. They got one of the firemen on the ground to radio up to the firemen who already ascended the building. One of them came down to get me to go to my apartment to do a check of the place. I went up with the fireman that came for me, and everyone was looking at me as I walked with the fireman. No hiding whose fault it was.

We got up to my apartment, and there were two other firemen in front of my door. They were actually about to break down the door, so it's a good thing I caught them when I did.

We went in, and they started inspecting the place. Inevitably, they asked what I was doing. I had to tell them the short story again. They looked at me like I was an idiot. They couldn't believe they got dressed for this crap. (They also couldn't believe that I am unable to open my windows or shut off my smoke detectors.)

On their way out, they told me to just turn on my A/C to suck the smoke out of my apartment. After about five more minutes of annoying alarms, that trick was able to shut down all of the various blaring noises in my apartment. At least I know they work.

If you're interested to know what happened with the steak, I finished broiling it in the oven. It ended up a perfect medium rare & tasted delicious. Broiling did not cause any smoking whatsoever. The lesson in all this -- fuck Epicurious.