Tales From The Alarm Industry, Part Four

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Stories from my time spent working for an alarm company.

This time: I make a friend and a ram raid

I am settling into the job well and getting to grips with all the different systems, the general service calls have now become a routine and I haven’t encountered any major issues when I’ve been on call or any of the faults I have been called to during the day. The most annoying thing is the pager, it has a habit of going off just after you arrive to carry out a service. When you ring in, it is always can you get to a fault as soon as possible. It was around 10.30 and I was just starting a service call at a small knitwear factory near the centre of Leicester. It was a very busy and noisy place with sewing machines built into benches and set row upon row. It reminded me of desks in a classroom. Each machine had a woman, in Indian attire, head down and working away sewing garments together. Men were collecting the finished items in boxes, transferring them onto an examining table and once passed checking, into other boxes where they then went off for packing. Every inch of the building was being used. Boxes were stacked up to the height of the alarm panel, I had to move several before I could get near it. All the time there was radio connected to the PA system playing Indian music. The noise was deafening, I think I was the only one who was bothered by it. Not long after I started my pager was going, I tried to phone through to the office on the engineer’s phone but I couldn’t hear the office on the other end. Once I had finished the service and not being too far from the office I decided to call in to see Melanie and find out what she wanted. I also thought that buying myself a mobile phone might be quite a good idea.

Once in the office I’m sitting across the desk from Melanie, “I need you to go to a callout, it’s not on your area, but Billy said you have to go.”  Waiting to hear more, I sat and waited for her to carry on. “The customer,” she went on hesitatingly, “can be a little difficult, Animal is not allowed to go, she threw him out and called the office to complain the last time he went.” “Why?” “She said he had been rude to her and her mother. His side of the story is that he walked out when she told him to shut up and stop bullshitting her.” I looked across the desk at her thinking that this was a job I hoped would have no real hassle, looks like I was wrong.

Melanie wrote the name and address down for me, I asked what the fault was, she said there had been a false alarm last night and she wants it investigating. “Phone back in when you are clear and let me know how it goes.” I asked her to call the customer and let her know that I will be there in half an hour.

The address was out in the sticks and down a country lane. I could see the side of the house set back from the road about fifty feet, I couldn’t see an entrance and carried on, about a hundred yards further along was a five bar gate, painted white and pushed open. It looked like it had been a long time since it was last closed. The drive was gravel and I slowly drove round a huge lawn until I could see two other cars parked by a row of stone built outbuildings. I parked next to them and took my toolbox out the back of the van and followed a footpath that led to the back door. The house had a thatched roof and looked like it would have been built hundreds of years ago, I knocked, I could feel my heart beating and my mouth felt dry. The door was opened by a lady who I guessed was in her seventies. “Hi, I’m Ken and I’ve come to check the alarm over. “Come in,” was the cheery greeting, “This is going to be easy,” I thought, “she doesn’t look the nasty type.” Unfortunately the lady who opened the door was the live in housekeeper. Mrs West was in her office. I slipped off my shoes and left them by the back door. There was an alarm keypad by the back door, “the panel must be elsewhere,” I thought. I was standing in a large kitchen, there was an Aga on one wall, next to it was a conventional cooker. There were units along the other walls and a large island unit in the middle. There was another lady sitting at the island, she was watching a portable TV sitting on top of one of the kitchen units. She never looked at or acknowledged me. “I’ll tell her you are here,” and the housekeeper went off through a door leading down a corridor. Mrs West entered the kitchen with the housekeeper following behind. “Who are you?”, it was more of a demand rather than a question. “Ken,” I replied in a confident voice. “Do you know what you are doing?” again another demand. “Yes”. She was in her late forties or early fifties, very business-like and not to be messed with. She went on to state that the alarm had gone off in the night and she wanted to know why. “I hope that by the time I’m finished I will be able to tell you what has happened and why.” My mouth was saying things that I wasn’t sure I could deliver on. “Can you show me where the alarm panel is please.” She opened a door off the kitchen, It was a large walk in cupboard, it may have been a pantry at one time but now had coats, hats, shoes, wellingtons, a couple of walking sticks and the alarm panel. I asked her to put in her code and quickly followed it up with what I hoped was the correct engineers’ code. It wasn’t, it was the third one on the list. “Mary, take mum up to her room.” The house keeper went over to the older lady watching TV saying, “Come on Helen, let’s go upstairs and watch TV there, we’ll leave the man to do his work.” She then led the older lady by the hand out of the kitchen. “Am I OK to walk round the house if I need to” I asked. She nodded, “I’ll be in my office when you need me.” Left on my own, I sighed, “I’d better get this one right,” I thought to myself. Reading through the logs in the alarm system memory, It was set at 23.15 from keypad three with the upstairs detectors being omitted. Only the downstairs had been alarmed, at 03.14 the alarm had activated, the detector in the lounge had been set off. I called to put the system on test, just in case I sent any signals through to the central station. I looked round the rooms off the kitchen and found the lounge down the corridor. It was a large lounge with two steps about half way along that made it split level. The detector was up in the corner of the room looking away from the windows towards the door I had just come through. There were two windows both with leaded lights. Everything looked OK. I went out to the van and returned with my steps. I wanted to check the detector in case there were spiders in or around it. Nothing, it was clean inside and there were no signs of webs anywhere. I wandered round the room looking for anything that might have caused the alarm. There was nothing I could see. I returned to the panel and checked the resistance of the zone that the detector was connected to, it was correct. I went back to the detector and checked that the voltage was OK. 13.8volts DC, exactly as it should be. I looked at the windows, one was slightly open. The hunt was now on for a moth that may have got in. There were no signs on the ceiling or any of the beams that ran across the lounge. I shook the curtains to see if anything moved, again nothing to be seen. I was beginning to give this up as a theory when I spotted the culprit. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted something that moved. I turned round slowly towards the fireplace. At the very end of the mantelpiece where it overhung the supports was a bat, it was squeezed into the corner. With the mantelpiece being black, it was only when it moved that it caught my eye. Now I knew I crept back out the lounge, closing the door behind me. How to get rid of it was the next challenge. Out at the van, I looked for something that I could use to catch it in. I decided on a box that had held a detector and a piece of card. Back in the lounge and wearing a pair of gloves I slowly walked towards the wayward bat. The plan was to catch him in the box and slide the cardboard over the end once it was in. I had done the same with spiders at home plenty of times before. So why was my heart racing? I pushed the box along the side of the fireplace, as I started to touch its body with the box, it moved, not much, but enough for me to pull back and wait. Nothing else happened and I began again, this time with a bit more confidence. It all went according to plan, I nudged it into the box and covered it with the cardboard. Back in the kitchen, Mary was making a drink and asked me how I am getting on. I hold up the box containing the bat. “There’s a bat in here that I found in the lounge, I suspect that it set the alarm off.” She looked shocked, “what are you going to do with it.” “I will put it in a dark shady place if I can find one and it can find its way home from there.” I went out the back door and round the back of the outbuildings. I had to walk to the end before I found a place where I could leave the box. I put the box on a ledge I could reach that was just under the eaves, hopefully when it got dark it would fly off.

I put the cardboard in a bin and my gloves back in the van. Going back into the house Mrs West was now in the kitchen, her demeanour has changed. She was now asking rather than demanding. She wanted to know how it had got in, how I found it and what I did with it. We went into the lounge, I showed her the window that was slightly open. I then showed her where the bat had been. She called for Mary, “was mum in here last night.” Mary replied that they had been in the lounge watching TV, “did you check the windows afterwards.” Mary shook her head saying that she didn’t think they had been opened. “Mum must have done it. Can you get some disinfectant and clean all round the fireplace.” Turning to me, “would you like a cup of coffee.” “Yes please, but I would like to tidy up and put my tools away first if you don’t mind.” She filled the kettle while I finished off with the panel, put my tools and steps back in the van and came back with my paperwork and the log book. She poured two mugs of coffee, put them on the island, there was already milk, sugar and a plate of biscuits laid out. She wanted to know if “that lad” (Animal) had left and was I her new engineer. I said to her “no and no on both points.” “I was given the job this morning as I was probably the closest to your house. My area is the one next to here.” “Can you get them to add my address onto your area,” she wanted to know. “You will have to check that with the office.” She said she would. “That lad is useless and he is very rude.” I protested that I couldn’t comment on anyone else. “You might not be able to, but I can.” Mary reappeared along with Mrs West’s mother. I said “Hello,” “mum is not very well and Mary cares for her when I’m not around or working.” Finishing my drink, I completed the paperwork, I had been there about an hour and a half. What had started off as quite confrontational had ended up on friendly terms.

Instead of phoning the office, there being few phone boxes nearby, I headed back in. Arriving back, when Melanie saw me she phoned Billy and he came up into the main office. “I don’t know what you did, but she likes you.” I looked at her with a puzzled look. “She’s already phoned in. She doesn’t want anyone else to go to her house.” “It was only a bat,” I replied. “Anyway she’s not on my area.” “She is now.”

Billy wanted to know everything that had taken place. I told him everything from start to finish including the coffee and biscuits. “Bloody hell, I’ve never had a drink from her,” was all he said at the end of my tale.

From then on, whenever possible I was the only one sent to her house. She was always friendly with me. On each visit I saw her mother gradually get worse until one visit she was no longer there. Mary told me that she had died a few months previously. I offered my condolences to Mrs West, she thanked me, there was never any talk about her mother again.

I was called out one day to the house when there had been an attempted break in. A window in the dining room had been prised open. The alarm had done its job, I reset the alarm, the window was repaired and I didn’t think any more about it. A couple of weeks later I was told by Billy I had to be at her house at 10.00 the next morning. I protested that I had other jobs planned. “Melanie will sort them,” was the reply. “What’s it about.” “She wants you there for a meeting.” The next day, I did a quick service first thing and then headed over to her house. The place was full of cars. I spotted the branch managers car and the surveyor’s car. There was also a van that belonged to one of the installation engineers, Alan had been with the company for years, you could always spot him, he wore a royal blue boiler suit all the time. He was the engineer who did any installation or alterations in Mrs West’s house. The three of them and Mrs West were outside standing on the lawn. I headed over and said hello to everyone. While they were all talking, I asked Alan what was going on. “They are talking about external beams round the house. Waste of money if you ask me. Put up a couple of Master Blasters and get rid of the bell delay would sort it.” Master Blasters are sirens which are rated at 127dB, just within the legal limits. They can be heard up to a mile away. The bell delay is on all systems that send signals to a control room who in turn contact the police. The alarm is silent once activated for ten minutes, this is to allow the police time to arrive on site and catch the criminals before the sounders are set off. It was useless, the police never attended within the time unless they were sitting round the corner. Outside the city, there was no chance at all. The criminals knew this, professional burglars would be in and out within ten minutes anyway, they would be long gone by the time the police arrived. There was an animated discussion going on between the three of them. Alan and I were standing to one side. “This is all going to kick off, you watch, her face has changed since the meeting started,” Alan had spent more time on site here than I had, “I can spot the signs,” he said. He wasn’t wrong, a few minutes later Mrs West erupted. “Stop,” she said in a raised voice, “please leave my premises, what you are saying makes no sense to me and it just sounds like you are spending my money without and recourse to me. Go and leave me in peace.” There was a stunned silence from the other two. “Go, this meeting is now over.” The branch manager and the surveyor turned and made to leave, Alan and I followed at a distance. “You two stay here please,” she said looking at Alan and I. The suits stopped and looked round at us, “Go into the kitchen, Mary will make you a drink.” With that, she walked into the house with Alan and I following. She went off down the corridor towards her office. Mary made us a drink and around ten minutes later Mrs West came into the kitchen, Mary made her a drink and she sat at the island cradling her cup. “What a pair of useless fools,” I’m not sure whether we were meant to answer that but neither of us said anything. “What do you two suggest?” Alan explained what he had suggested when we were standing outside. Mrs West wanted to know how much it would cost and how much disruption there would be. Alan said a mains supply would be needed in the attic, existing cabling could be used for the trigger for the Master Blasters. I checked the cost in my pricelist, Alan said it should be done within a day. “It would need to be properly costed back in the office and a quote sent out to you, we can’t do it without authorisation,” I said. She sighed, “can you organise it please, I don’t want to have to speak to either of those two.” I nodded and said I would sort it when I got back into the office. Our coffees finished, Alan and I left, he went on to carry on with an installation he was on. I returned back to the office. As soon as I was spotted, I was called into the manager’s office. The surveyor came in as did Billy the chief engineer. They wanted to know what happened after they left. I explained what Alan had said, “you can’t do that,” the surveyor said when he heard the bit about removing the bell delay. “Will you ring her and tell her that then,” I asked. He went quiet. “She doesn’t want beams in her garden, she was quite adamant about that,” I said. “She is expecting a quote in the next few days,” I finished up with. I left them to their discussion and I had a quick word with Melanie before I left. “They were absolutely furious when they came back” she said. I smiled and left to carry on with the work I should have been doing.

It’s a Sunday, and I’m on call from 08.30 through until Monday morning at 08.30. It had been quiet, I had been out to a couple of false alarms during the day and I was sitting watching TV in the evening. The pager was sitting on the coffee table, I checked it several times to make sure it was switched on, it was. There had been nothing since the middle of the afternoon. I went off to bed around 23.00, leaving the pager out on the landing. I hoped I would get a full night’s sleep. At 02.30 the buzzing started, I slipped out of bed, found the pager and silenced it. I got dressed and went downstairs to phone in. There had been a break in at a printers on an industrial estate in Leicester, the key holder was on site and the police were on their way. I asked them if they would call the site and say I will be half an hour. Driving through the countryside on quiet roads gives me time to get my head together. It should be a quick in and out and hopefully back in bed by 04.00. On arrival there was no sign of a break in from the front. There were two cars parked outside. The roller shutters were all intact. The one covering the pedestrian door was up and there was a light on. I went in, calling as walked down the corridor past reception and the alarm panel. I had not been here before and I had no idea of the layout. I pushed open a door at the end of the corridor, There were two Asian men talking. “Hi, alarm engineer,” “About f*cking time,” one of them said. “I only got the call forty five minutes ago. Have you had a break in?” This time the other one spoke. He said all the computers in the works have been taken. “How did they get in,” I asked. “Through the f*cking wall,” said the first one. He pointed further down the works. I walked down to look, There was a hole about three foot square that had been knocked through from the outside. There was rubble everywhere. Footprints could be seen in the dust on the floor and I kept well back. “Have the police been.” “Been and gone, f*cking useless, said forensics would be round in the morning and not to touch anything.” I was rapidly going off number one Asian. “I’ll check and reset the alarm, can one of you come and enter your code please.” I walked back down the corridor, with the alarm reset, I checked that it would set again ok. I leant on reception to fill in the log book and paperwork. Back in the works, I asked one of them to sign the paperwork. “What about the f*cking hole, what are you going to do about the f*cking huge hole in the wall.” Asian number one had no manners, I know his business had just been robbed, but that wasn’t my fault. The alarm had worked and done its job. Asian number two had signed the paperwork. Number one was still looking at me. What he expected me to do I don’t know. “I’m an alarm engineer, not a bricklayer, there is nothing I can do.” With that I said goodnight and left. I drove back home thinking that there might be a complaint in the morning. I was back in bed by 04.00 and slept through until the alarm went off as normal. There was no complaint in the morning. It wasn’t the last time I would be sworn at, people can be very arsey in the middle of the night.

Next time: I’m asked to do some work on the side, key holder calls, and I buy a phone.

© 10210ken 2023