Tales From The Alarm Industry, Part Nine

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Stories from my time spent working for an alarm company.

This Time: Animal leaves, a missing alarm panel and I shut a building society branch.

We all knew Animal was going to leave long before he handed in his notice, he had been talking about it for ages. Some thought it was all just talk, but on a Monday morning while we were in the office picking up spares he saw Billy and did the deed. He was finishing that Friday. As soon as we got to the café, we wanted to know from him where he was going. He told us that an electrical company that he did some work for on the side had offered him a full time job setting up an alarm division of the business. He was to start the following week. We stayed in the café for longer than usual talking and wishing him well, there was no guarantee that we would see him later in the week. I was sad that he was going, but in another way slightly pleased, a new engineer on his area might get Mrs West and her daughter to stop calling the office and asking for me every time something went wrong. I was wrong, Animal’s replacement was Umar and he thought he knew everything. He had worked for another small alarm company for the last eighteen months and was very cocky. When he was out training with Stevie all he kept saying was that he knew everything and there was nothing Stevie could tell him. At the end of his first week of training, Stevie reported to Billy that Umar knew everything and he was now ready to go it alone. Unfortunately Umar was a bullshitter and knew a lot less than he made out. He was all right on servicing but really struggled with fault finding. He seemed to call us each in turn to get help with some of the faults. When told what to check, he would trot out that he was just about to try that before he called. “Then why the f*ck didn’t you do that.” He had a bad attitude, both towards his fellow workers and the customers. His comeuppance happened at the dreaded Mrs West’s. She had called the office with a fault and asked for me to go out. Melanie said that there was a new engineer for her area and that it would be him rather than me who would be attending. I only found this out later on in the day when I was called out to her house. Apparently he had arrived, having been warned already to be careful, with his ‘I know what I’m doing’ attitude. “I’m here to sort out your alarm system,” he announced. Mrs West said to me that she took an instant dislike to him the minute he walked in. “I didn’t like his attitude or the way he looked at me. He didn’t know what he was doing, he spent half an hour walking round the house not doing anything. I rang your office and told them to get him out of my house as I didn’t feel safe with him here. His phone went and he packed up his tools and said he had to go to a more serious fault and that someone else would be along to fix my issue.” On hearing all this from Mrs West, I apologised and said I would get on with finding out what the problem was. It turned out to be a wire that had come loose in one of the pir’s. It was soon fixed and with a cup of coffee to help me fill in the paperwork, I was on my way.

About 14.00 in the afternoon on a Thursday, my pager went followed by my phone. I answered the phone and it was Billy, “What job are you on at the moment,” he wanted to know. “I’m half way through a domestic, what’s up,” I asked. “Do you have a bell box and a blind Abacus 64 panel (blind, meant that there was no keypad on the front, just a metal casing) on your van,” I knew I had the bell box but wasn’t sure about the panel, I thought there was but needed to check. “Hang on and I will go and find out.” I returned and confirmed that I had both items. When you have finished, can you go over to, and he gave me the name and address of a company in the west of Leicester, the police have just finished after a break in and they need to get the alarm system back up and running.” “Why do I need a new panel and bell box, and why me, it’s way out my area.” He replied telling me that I was the only one available that afternoon and he wasn’t sure if the panel had been damaged in the break in. I finished off the service and made my way over to the address I had been given. It was a large engineering factory, I parked up and got my tool box out the back of the van. As I headed into the reception area everything looked ok, no sign of a break in. I said to the receptionist who I was and she went off to get someone else. A portly man in his fifties appeared and said to follow him. We went back outside and down the side of the factory to the staff entrance. I glanced up to the bell box about twenty feet up on the wall, it had been ‘foamed’, that’s where expanding foam is sprayed into the bell box through any gaps behind it. When it expands and starts to set, it prevents the bell from going off. That was going to be a messy job replacing that. I pointed it out to the man and he nodded. Inside the staff entrance, I could see the alarm keypad, but not the panel. “Where’s the panel” I asked. He opened up a cardboard box that was on the floor under the clocking in machine, it contained what was left of the alarm panel. It had been removed from the wall with the aid of a sledge hammer. My first thoughts were that I had just been stitched up by Billy and how the f*ck was I going to get all this back up and running. “Where had the panel been,” I asked, just round the corner from the clocking in machine was a patch of wall a different colour to the rest with a lot of wires hanging down from the ceiling above. “You have to get this back up and working today.” Again I wondered how I was going to do it. Next to where the panel had been was a door, this led into the factory, I immediately said that the door needed to be blocked off so I could work safely. There was a protest and I was told that this was the way for the men to come and go. “They will have to find another route if you want this doing now,” I said. He went off to organise another door for the workers to use, I rang Billy to let him know what the situation was. “It’s a day’s work here to get this sorted. I could do with a help from anyone who is about.” Billy said he would try, and call me back to update me.

I looked at the wires hanging down. There were around ten different lots of six core alarm cables, some still had wires showing others sliced off when the panel was attacked, and then there was the bell box. I decided to bring the van round and replace the bell box while there was still light. I saw the log book lying on the floor and picked it up, with that, I should be able to wire things up as they had been once I get the new panel back on the wall. With my ladders in place and some thin plastic gloves pinched from the diesel pumps when I had been filling up the van, I started to undo the screws to take the lid off the bell box. It was now at least twelve hours since the box had been foamed and it had set hard in some parts but was still runny in other parts. I had to wrench the cover off. With it removed, I dropped it onto the ground. Using a screwdriver as a chisel I started to chip away the foam surrounding the PCB. I wanted to try and leave as much of the cable in place to make it easier to fit the new box. The deeper in I went the softer the foam was. Get any of this on your clothes and they are ruined. The company supplied polo shirts but the trousers were mine. The foam was sticking to my tools but I eventually got to the cable, I snipped off the wires then undid the three screws that held the box on the wall. As I undid the last one, I let it fall, the cable was left hanging out the wall. I was able to fit the new bell box back on the wall using the existing screw holes and had it wired up and the cover on just as all the staff started to leave. I looked at my watch, it was 17.30. Billy hadn’t phoned so I was back onto him to find out what help he had got for me. No-one was available. “What about the on call engineer. “I have spoken to him and he said he will get to you if he can.” “F*cking great I thought.” Shortly after that, the man re-appeared. “How’s it going,” he asked in friendly way, “will it take you long.” “I have no idea, I have put up a new bell box and I am just about to start on the panel. Where can I get a cup of coffee.” He led me to a canteen with a coffee machine and several vending machines. This was going to use up all the change I had in my pockets.  I bought a cup of coffee and phoned home saying I was going to be late, “How late,” I was asked, I said I had no idea but it would be late. The man reappeared and he said that he was going home, he gave me a business card with his name and phone number on it. “Call me when you are done and I will come back.” “F*ck me, left on my own to sort all this out.”

I looked through the log book as I drank my coffee. There were two keypads on the system, one in the factory near where I was, and one in the office. There was an REM (remote expansion module) located in the office. All the zone numbers were listed which would make things easier. I looked at where the panel had been, with several of the cables now shorter, I decided to move the panel another foot above where it had been. I drilled the wall to put the panel in the new location and soon had it mounted. I pulled in the mains cable and wired that in first but left the power off. Fortunately whoever had installed the system had written on each cable which zone was which. When I saw this, I thought that this was going to make things a lot easier. I wired in the bell, the REM and the two keypads which were all marked up. The company used a fixed set of colours for all the alarm systems so it was easy to wire up once you knew which cable was which. I wired up everything else that could be identified. I then powered up the system to see what happened. There was beeping from the keypad nearby. I punched in the default codes and got the system into engineering. I was left with three cables that didn’t have any markings on them. They were three of the alarm zones and I had no idea where they were. I went through the log book marking off all the zones I had located and wired in. The three that were left, were dotted around the factory, two were pir’s the third was a door contact. I put power onto one of the cables and went off to walk round the factory to see if anything activated. I found that one quite quickly and did the same with the next spare cable. Back into the factory and I couldn’t find anything that activated. I returned to the panel and wired in the third and final cable. This one I found in the far corner of the factory and marked up the cables for anyone in the future. The cable that didn’t work must have been the door contact. I went round checking all the doors to find the one that was on the alarm system. With that located, all the zones were now wired in. I realised, that I hadn’t wired in the phone line. I hunted round for the BT junction box and cable. I found it above the clocking in machine, the cable had been ripped out and there was no cover on the box. I checked the voltage, and thankfully it was still live. I ran a new cable round to the panel and discovered that I hadn’t installed a communicator board onto the alarm panel. I also didn’t have the ‘chip’ that identified the site. I found a board in the van and opened up the old panel hoping that the chip hadn’t been damaged. It was still in its place and looked undamaged. I carefully prised it out and pressed it into the location on the new board. I then rang through to the control room to put the system on test. “What are you doing still working, you’re not on call tonight.” I told him I had been lumbered with this job. I asked what the call out engineer had been doing. “He’s out at a site in Rutland where the alarm had gone off. The system has been on test for an hour now.” “At least I’m not the only one working,” I thought. With the site now on test I wired in the phone line. I moved round to the keypad and programmed the system as best I thought. It was now well after 22.00 and I was feeling worn out. I had been at it for six hours with only a cup of coffee. I headed back to the vending machines and bought more coffee and as much chocolate as the change in my pocket would buy. With everything looking good, I closed up the panel and set the system. It set and then unset as it should. I set the alarm again and this time I triggered the system to activate. I was going to have to wait ten minutes to make sure the bell delay worked. This gave me time to phone into the control room to see if they received the signal, they did. I sat on the open back of my van eating a Mars Bar, then a Twix, both washed down with slurps of coffee. The outside sounder went off after ten minutes and I punched in ‘1234’ to shut up the noise and punched it in again to reset the alarm. I then rang the man to come back and lock up. “What took you so long?” I chose not to answer the question. I cleared away all my tools and put the rubbish in the box with the old panel. I was just finishing off the paperwork when he drove up. I said that he would need to change the default code to the original one and I talked him through how to do that. He said there were two codes, one for the offices and one for the factory. Apparently the factory starts at 07.00 but the offices don’t open until 08.30. I said tonight there was only going to be one code that would set and unset everything. He made to protest but I quickly shut him up. “I have been working for fifteen hours without a break, I should have finished at 17.30 but I am still here working so you have an alarm system. If it needs a bit of tweaking, it can be done in the morning.” I may have said too much, but I wasn’t bothered, I was mentally and physically tired and I just wanted to go to bed. I left just shortly after 23.30. It was a job well done, but I was too tired to care. I drove through the centre of Leicester and stopped at a burger van for some hot food, my tea would have been in the oven since 18.00 and wouldn’t be up to much by the time I got home. My phone started to ring. “What the f*ck is it now.” “That job you were just on,” it was the control room, “Yes?” I questioned, “Have you finished, because you haven’t asked us to take it off test.” I heaved a sigh of relief as I confirmed that I had finished and I thanked them for calling me back. I drove slowly back home and was in bed fast asleep by 01.00. I rang in the next morning to say that someone needed to go back to split the system. Melanie wanted to know why I hadn’t done it. I told her when I had finished, she apologised and said she would sort it.

The company had a strange relationship with one of the large Building Societies, their own maintenance department handled routine servicing, but we were contracted for out of hours calls, faults and repairs. Their alarm systems were monitored by themselves with out of hours calls being passed on to our control room. They had a different engineer’s code which was used in every branch. Melanie paged me and being nearby, I called in when I had finished my job. Can you see Billy she said? I went off to find him, he was in his office and I went in and sat down. He passed over a small white box about 4” X 4” X 2”, it was heavy, I opened it up to see a grey metal box that fitted tightly inside the outer cardboard box. I turned it upside down and let the metal box slide out onto my hand. “Know what it is?” I examined the top and the bottom, there were three screw holes in the bottom and some security screws on the top. I nodded, “It’s a limpet, it goes on the side of a safe and picks up any vibration or hard knocks.” I said I had seen them fitted on jobs but never fitted one myself. A sheet of paper had fallen out from the box, it was the instructions, I quickly glanced at them and put them pack in the box. “There is a faulty one in a building society on you area. I hope the holes line up as you won’t be able to drill the safe. If it doesn’t line up, drill the limpet.” With the limpet and the address I headed out. I had to park in a multi storey car park so had to carry everything, I had my tools, my drill box and the limpet. At the desk, I said who I was, where I was from and what I had come to do. I pushed my ID through the slot where money or pass books would go. The girl went off and came back without my ID, “Can you wait a few minutes please.” I stood to one side to let her deal with customers who were behind me. A door to the side of the cashiers was unlocked and opened, a smartly dressed lady asked me to come through. “Sorry for the delay, I was just checking your ID.” “No problem at all,” I replied. I put down my kit and signed in on a book she had taken down from a shelf. “You have come to fix the alarm on the ATM haven’t you?” I said that my office had been a little short on information and that I had come with a replacement vibration device. She led me back out through the front area and over to the ATM. What do you need to do, I looked round and saw the cable disappearing into the cash machine. “I need to get inside the machine to the safe where the money is held, on the side of the internal safe will be the vibration device.” I was guessing, but pretty sure I was right. “I don’t need the safe opening up, I just need to get to the outside of it.” She looked at me in an odd way.” I can’t do that, I can’t let you work on the ATM with the money inside. Come back into the office.” We went back through the door we had come out and she wanted to know what I needed to do. I took the limpet out the box and showed it to her, “I need to take the old one off and fit a new one.” She wanted to know how long it would take. “Probably thirty minutes if it all goes well.” “Can it be done out of hours.” I said it can be done anytime, but I had been sent now. Can you please wait here. She went off into another office, closed the door and I could see she was on the phone. On her return she told me that she had spoken to security who had said that the work had to be done as soon as possible.” I have to close the branch while the money is removed from the machine and then let you work on the ATM and then close it again to reload the machine when you have finished.” She also said that I would have to wait outside while this was done. I said I was happy to do that. She let me back out through the door into the front. I left to wait outside. One of the tellers was now stationed on the entrance door telling anyone trying to enter that they need to close for five minutes for security reasons. With everyone gone and the front door locked, the ATM was opened up and the cassettes holding the money were removed. They were taken through the door into the back office. Where they went I don’t know and didn’t ask. The door was unlocked and I was let back in. She put in her code into the alarm panel and I put in mine. I asked her to call security and to put the system on test for thirty minutes. I now had a deadline and got started. I undid the security screws on the faulty unit, disconnected the wires and unscrewed it off the side of the safe. I opened up the new one and to my despair only two of the holes matched up. I decided to drill the new one and hope that the hole lined up, it nearly did, I used a bigger drill bit to open up the hole. A washer would stop the screw going through. I had it back on and wired up in twenty five minutes. With the panel back in day mode, I asked the lady to call security and to let them know I was going to activate the limpet. I waited until she had finished the call and then went back and putting my drill on hammer but with no bit in it, I put the chuck up against the limpet. I pulled the trigger and the chuck rattled against the side of the vibration detector. She phoned to check with security that they had received the signal, they had, the panel was reset and I left them to lock the doors again and refill the ATM.

Later, I found out that one of the engineers at another branch had been on a similar type call where the cash machine had to be emptied. He idly asked how much was kept in the machine. Apparently, that is the wrong thing to do. He was asked to leave the building society and another engineer had to take over the job.

Next time: Armed police, another panel change and stocktaking.

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