Tales From The Alarm Industry, Part Eight

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Stories from my time spent working for an alarm company.

This Time: New York, Guns and Ammo, and fur coats.

I’ve not mentioned one of the service engineers’ who had been there since I started, this was because he wasn’t a team player. He kept himself to himself and didn’t mix, he didn’t ask for, or offer any help. Everyone knew him as New York. His proper name was Mohammed Mohammed. His parents must have thought long and hard about his name. The nickname New York, came from the Gerard Kenny song “New York, New York so good they named it twice. Eventually he left to work for Modern Alarms, he was replaced by one of the installation engineers, George, aka Boner, we all new why he had the nickname. The girls in the office would only ever call him George. He fitted in well and took no time at all to get up to speed with the servicing and call outs. He did struggle, as we all had at the beginning with fault finding, however all of us tried to help in any way we could. The main thing was that he would be working for five days rather than the four and a half that New York did. On Fridays he would go off to prayers and seldom returned or if he did, he never covered any faults in his area and the rest of us had to step in. No one was bothered when he left, his new colleagues at Modern Alarms would soon find out what he was like.

On call on a Wednesday night, the pager started at 22.30 just as I was thinking about going to bed. “Can you ring this customer, the alarm is going off, but we haven’t had a signal through and he can’t shut the thing up.” With the name and phone number I made the call. As soon as the phone was picked up, I could hear the noise, the alarm was going full pelt. Conversation was useless and all I could shout to the customer was that I would be there as soon as I could. I rang the control room back and got the address. It was around five miles from where I was and I headed straight out. I was there within twenty five minutes. As I drove down the long curving drive I could see the house. It was a farmhouse that had been knocked down and rebuilt, a bit like a mini “Southfork” ranch. There were two huge columns either side of the front door and steps up to the front door. Just to one side of the front door was a Range Rover with three people sitting inside. I pulled up opposite the Range Rover and as I got out, I could hear the siren inside the house going off. At the same time the owner got out the Range Rover to join me. “I can’t shut the bloody thing up, it just went off by itself about an hour ago.” Still inside the Range Rover were his wife and daughter. “Where is it,” I asked. He thought it was in the attic but wasn’t sure. There was no sound from the bell box on the outside of the house. Inside, I asked him to put in his code into the keypad and I quickly followed it up with the engineers’ code. I went through the menus to try to switch off the noise from the panel but nothing stopped the noise. It echoed throughout the house, we were in the hall and it sounded like an echo chamber, the noise bouncing off all the painted walls. I asked where the panel was and he showed me a cloakroom, the panel was on the wall inside. I quickly opened it up and disconnected the bell trigger, nothing changed. I said I would need to go up into the attic to shut the sounder off. “Is there a ladder to get up there?” He shook his head. I went back out to the van to get my steps and a sheet to put on the floor. Up two flights of stairs and he points to the trap door in the ceiling. By his time conversation is all but useless. He has gone back down stairs and out to his car. With the sheet spread out and the steps opened up I climbed up and pushed the hatch up and to one side. The noise was now deafening. I felt round trying to find a switch for a light but there wasn’t one. I climbed back down. From my tool box I took my small torch, a large and a small flat blade screwdriver and a pair of cutters. Back up the steps this time I used the torch to locate the sounder. It was half way along the unboarded attic and screwed to a joist. “Great,” I thought, “no bloody boards, I hope I don’t put my foot through the ceiling.” There was only about four feet clearance down the centre of the roof so I set off as carefully as I could bracing myself against the roof timbers as I stepped from joist to joist. With my tools in my back pocket and torch in hand, I crept closer to the source of the noise. By the time I got there I felt like my whole head was shaking inside. It was beating in time to the noise of the 127 decibel sounder going off inside a steel bell box. I knelt down beside it, my knees resting on a joist. With the big screwdriver I started to undo the screws to the bell box. The torch was now stuck in my mouth pointing occasionally where I wanted it to. With the two screws undone and dropped I pulled the lid off and took the torch out my mouth. I found the wires that went from the pcb to the sounder and cut one of the wires. Immediately there was silence. My ears were ringing and my head still felt like it was vibrating but there was silence. I stayed not moving for what seemed like ages but was probably only a minute while I tried to get my head back to where it should be. I screwed the lid back on the bell box and re traced my steps back towards the hatch. I managed it without putting a foot through the ceiling. Back on the landing the owner was waiting for me. He wanted to know what had happened. I said that the pcb inside the bell box was faulty or the wiring to it was damaged. “Will it go off again tonight,” “there is no chance of that,” I said, “I have cut the wire to the sounder.” The wife was now coming up the stairs with their daughter, “thank you for coming so quickly,” she said as she passed by and went into one of the bed rooms. I cleared away my tools and the steps and went down stairs. It was now about quarter to twelve, I said that I needed to check that everything else was working ok. He nodded and asked if I wanted a cup of coffee. “Yes please, I’m going to have to make a bit of noise, but I will keep it to a minimum so as not to disturb your daughter.” He was a man who nodded a lot and didn’t say much. I returned to the cloakroom and looked at the log book to check what was on the alarm system. For a domestic, it was a large system with sixteen zones in use. Three of the zones immediately struck me. “Gun room L & C, Gun room door and Gun room PIR. “L & C” is lace and cover, this is usually done to doors, a very thin low breaking strain single wire is stapled all round the inside of a door in a pattern that covers every part of the door, a sheet of hardboard is then fixed over the top to both protect and disguise the wire underneath. The two ends of the wire are then connected into a 24 hour zone on the alarm panel. A 24 hour zone s one that is active even when the alarm is not set. It works in the same way as a panic button which are also 24 hour zones. There were three panic buttons on the system, one by each of the front and back door and one in the main bedroom. The wife brought me the coffee, “how long are you going to be,” “no more than half an hour, If you want me to fix the fault, it could be a couple of hours.” “Can someone call back in the morning and do it,” “I can get that sorted for you, someone will phone you in the morning to sort it.” I tested the alarm and everything worked except the disconnected sounder in the attic. With my coffee drunk and the paperwork done I was off. Once back home, I rung through to the control room to pass on the message that an engineer call was needed for the next morning. I was in bed by 01.00 with nothing else throughout the night, I had a good sleep. The next morning, I had just started on a service call when my pager went. I ignored it and carried on with the service. About fifteen minutes later my phone is ringing. “Didn’t you hear your pager go off,” “No, there’s a lot of metal in this building, perhaps the signal didn’t get through.” “Well, that job you went out to last night, can you go back and sort out the problem.” “Why me, it’s not my area, it’s Animals job,” I protested. “Billy says, since you went out last night, you will be able to sort it out quickly.” “It’s still not my job,” I said. Melanie was having none of it and was about to end the call. “Can you get Billy to sort me out a complete SASU (self-actuating siren unit) and have it ready in an hour. “What time will you be there so I can call the customer?” “Say about 11.00.” With that I grumpily got back to work. When I got back into the office I moaned some more at Melanie, “I was only doing what I was told,” she replied. I had a go at Billy as well when I picked up the SASU unit. “Look, I don’t need any hassle from you, I have enough from the customers and the installation guys, so please just go and get on with the job.” He looked like he was having a bad day which wasn’t going to get any better.

On my return to the previous night’s call, there was now an extra car parked up outside the house. I parked alongside it and with my tool box, I knocked on the door. The wife answered the door and beckoned me in. I said that I had come to repair the damage from the night before. The husband came out from the kitchen and I explained to them both what I was going to do. Replace the unit in the attic, and if that failed, check out the wiring between the panel and the attic to see if there is a fault. With the alarm panel put into engineering, and the lid off the panel, I set to work. I took everything back up to the landing where I was the night before. With my steps and the sheet on the floor I climbed back into the attic. It was still just as dark, however this time I had a trailing lamp. Before I set off for work that morning, I had found in my shed, a lamp I had bought to work on my car. The bulb was protected by a plastic shield with a hook on the top. I put it in the van in case I was in the same situation as I had been last night. I repeated my crawl from the night before and this time I managed to sit astride a joist with the bell box between my legs. I opened it up again, this time it was easier, there was light and no noise. I took the hopefully faulty PCB off the back plate and replaced it with the new one from the unit that I had picked up. I connected it up to the backup battery, all that was left to do was take out the old siren and fit the new one. With the new siren in place and one of the wires connected it was crunch time. I was going to just touch the second wire onto the terminal to see what happened, if all hell broke loose then I could quickly pull the wire off again. If nothing happened then all was well and I could connect it in. I touched the wire onto the PCB, there was a momentary squeal from the siren then nothing. I quickly tightened up the connection and then put the lid back on the bell box. Again I carefully retraced my steps. With everything out the attic and the hatch now closed, I headed back down stairs. I left the steps and tools under the hatch in case I needed to go back up. I went into the kitchen to let them know I was going to set off the alarm. Sat at the breakfast bar was the owner of the other car parked outside. Mrs West looked up and said “hello,” she went on to explain, “when my daughter said they had a fault with the alarm last night, I phoned and said you had to come out.” It all made sense now as to me being sent on the job. I said I had replaced the faulty unit and I now wanted to do a full test of the system. I didn’t need to but I did want to have a look in the gun room. I started on the walk test and asked where the gun room was. The husband opened a drawer and took out a keyring with a couple keys on it. I followed him back out into the hall and he opened a door under the stairs. As the door opened, I heard a “bing bong” from the panel, “this must be the gun room door,” I thought. Down a flight of stairs into a basement room about eight feet square, there was wood panelling on the walls and carpet on the floor. There was a desk and chair against one wall, a radiator on another wall and on the facing wall were the guns. There was a steel box fixed to the wall and with a huge padlock securing the door. He didn’t offer to open it up which was a bit disappointing. There was a pir in the corner looking directly at gun cupboard, I could hear the alarm panel every time we moved in the room. “The shells are kept in my office, they are in a safe, there is another detector in that room.” I checked the lace covering when we went back up the stairs. With the panic buttons and the other detectors now checked, it was time to see if the siren was now working ok. I scrolled through the menus until I got to the bell test. I warned everyone that I was going to make some noise. It worked and I shut it off as quickly as I could. I rang the control room and put the system on test and then sent a few signals through to them to check the communicator. With all the tests done, I sat and did the paperwork on a chair in the hall. Mrs. Wests’ daughter came out and asked me if I wanted a coffee. I said “yes,” “come into the kitchen when you are ready.” I went into the kitchen with my paperwork ready to sign, “thank you again for coming out last night.” She went on to ask me where I lived, how long I had worked for the company and what happens when you are on call. I explained how it worked and said that if there was a really bad night, I could have to work theoretically for 24 hours straight. All three looked a bit shocked at that. I said that it never happens like that, but it could. With the coffee drunk and a signature on the paperwork I was into the van and back to what I should have been doing that morning.

The following Tuesday I am on call again. The first one came I at just after 19.30. “Can you call this customer, he can’t set his alarm.” With the name and number, I make the call and I am told that unless I get there very soon, they are going to be late for a dinner party. I ask what the problem is, “the alarm won’t set and we can’t leave the house without it being set.” I tell him that it will be forty five minutes before I can get there. “That’s not good enough, get someone closer to come out now.” I explain that I am the only one on duty and I will get there as soon as I can. Again he stresses that they are going to be late for an appointment. I feel like saying that the longer he keeps me on the phone, the later he will be, but think the better of it. I end the call by saying that I will be there just as soon as I can. The address is on the other side of Leicester and hopefully the traffic will have subsided and I will make good time. The house was in a side street off one of the main roads into and out of town. It is a large detached Victorian house, it had no drive, only parking on the street outside. It was the type of house that would now be split into four flats. I knocked on the door and it was answered almost immediately, in the entrance hall was a man in evening dress and a lady wearing an evening gown, a fur coat was draped over a chair near the door. They were both in their late sixties. “Can you get on and sort it quickly please, we are very late.” It was said more like an order than a request. I was shown to an alarm keypad and I asked the man to enter his code. The alarm started to set and the display flagged up “Fur Room” as not being clear. I said which zone was faulty and asked to see the fur room. I was led upstairs and into the master bedroom. There was a plush red carpet on the floor that my feet sunk into. In the far corner was a white wood panelled door, he had to give the door a good pull to get it open. He flicked on a light to reveal a box room with rails on three sides, each one filled with furs. The furs were arranged in size order, from full length going all the way round the three walls until it got to stoles, there was one with a foxes head staring at me. The room stunk of moth balls. “This is the fur room,” the man announced. There was a concealed door contact fitted into the frame of the door with the magnetic part drilled into the door. The ill-fitting door had been rubbing on the door contact, the cover was lying on the floor and the glass reed switch inside was broken. I pointed this out and he asked if I could fix it and how long it would take. “Yes, and fifteen minutes,” I replied. He looked at his watch and tutted. “You’d better get on with it,” he said. I went out to the van and returned with a new door contact and quickly had it fitted. Having done that, I tightened up the screws on the hinge to see if that would stop the door rubbing on the new contact. It did improve it a bit, but I said they needed to get the door fixed or the same thing was going to happen again. I went back down stairs and asked the man to try to set the alarm again, this time everything was OK, he entered his code again to stop it setting. As I was writing up the log book, I could hear a car beeping its horn outside, “Can you hurry up please, that will be our taxi.” “I’m going as fast as I can, I carried on and was writing the paperwork, the woman was now “tutting”, “I’ve got to fill in the paperwork,” the tutting made me go slower and it took twice the time it normally did. With it eventually done and signed for, the alarm was set and we left the house together, the man in his dinner suit, the woman now with her fur coat on. I waited the twenty seconds for the alarm to set, before I headed to the van, by the time I got to the pavement, they were gone.

Next time: Animal leaves, a missing alarm panel and I shut a building society branch.

© 10210ken 2023