Tales From The Alarm Industry, Part Ten

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Stories from my time spent working for an alarm company.

This Time: Armed police, another panel change and stocktaking.

Subconsciously, I can hear a noise, it’s coming from outside the bedroom. As I slowly wake, I realise it’s the pager out on the landing. I open one eye and look at the clock, 02.50. I open the other eye and swing out of bed and go to switch off the pager. With a dressing gown on, I creep down the stairs trying not to waken anyone. I call in to be told that the alarm has gone off in a pub in the city centre and that the landlord will meet me there. I know the pub, it’s a lock up one where the landlord doesn’t live on site. It sits on one of the main shopping streets in town. Back upstairs to get dressed and I am ready to head on out. The drive over the countryside into Leicester gives me time to get my head together. I run through what might have caused the alarm, I’m never right so I don’t know why I do it. When I get there, the landlord is sitting in his car together with another person in the passenger seat. We all get out together, I can hear the sounder inside the pub going off, I ask if he has been inside yet, “No, I was waiting for you.” I’m not sure what he thinks I’ll be able to do if there is someone still inside. “Have you checked round the back,” there is a shake of the head. “Can you do that before we go inside please?” He reluctantly unlocks a gate that leads to the side and back of the pub. It’s dark and they don’t have a torch. I take out my torch and shine it down the side and follow them. No sign of a break in so we head round to the front door. The landlord opens up and switches on the lights just inside the door. The entrance hallway and part of the bar area lights up. “Where’s the alarm panel,” “It’s behind the bar,” we go into the pub and through the hatchway in the bar that has been left open. “Can you punch in your code to shut the noise up.” With this done, he switches on all the lights. The two then go off to check out the toilets and the kitchen. They return saying everything is as it should be. I’ve checked the alarm panel and found out that it was the contacts on the cellar hatch that set off the alarm. The landlord and I head down to the cellar while his mate stays in the bar. With the lights on we head over to the hatch. It’s one of the old types where the barrels are dropped down from street level. There are two huge cork filled sacks for them to land on. The hatch is held closed by a metal chain that goes from a metal eye on one wall, through an eye on the hatch and then back through another eye on the opposite wall and fastened tight with a padlock. Except in this case, the chain is not tight, there is enough slack to push the hatch up breaking the contact. Someone must have tried to prise the hatch open from out on the street. He undoes the padlock and pulls the chain tighter and redoes the lock. He pushes the hatch up but this time, it doesn’t move. Just as we are finishing, his mate is at the top of the stairs, “quick quick, come quick,” he is shouting. We both hurry across the cellar and up the stairs. As we get into the bar, we can see through the partially open curtains blue flashing lights, they are bouncing off the walls inside the pub. We each go to a window and look out. There are three police cars all with blue lights going. One is blocking the street from the way they have come, another is right in front of a dark coloured car and the third is blocking the street to the front. More sirens can be heard in the distance. Right in front of the pub a man is lying face down in the middle of the road. A policeman is pointing a gun directly at his head. Another policeman is kneeling on his legs while he handcuffs him. All this time another armed policeman is pointing a gun through the open driver’s door at the passenger. Two more police vehicles have arrived, a dog unit and a large van. The dog handler takes over from the armed officer watching the passenger, who then goes round to the other side of the car to get the other person out. The first one has already been taken away and put in the police van. Another van arrives and once he has been handcuffed the second person is put in the newly arrived van. Looking up in the direction they had come from several police are scouring the street. One of them returns carrying what looks like one of the old cloth bank bags that held coins. He shows it round to the others and they seem pleased. The whole incident has probably taken less than fifteen minutes from start to finish. As we are looking out, we are spotted by one of the policemen. There is talk between them and one of the firearms officers walks towards the door. On entering, he wants to know who we are and what we are doing in the pub at this time. Once we had explained the reasons why we were here, he said we could go. “What about our vehicles,” I asked, He said he would have a word and the car blocking the road would be moved to allow us to leave. I looked in the local paper for the next couple of days but never saw a report of what had happened. I guess it was drugs, but who knows.

There was a hosiery factory on my area that I dreaded doing the service on. The alarm panel was ancient. It was a custom built unit, key operated with loads of switches and lamps on it. The panel was made of wood with a metal faceplate where all the switches and lamps were mounted. Connected to the system was a direct line through to the control room. A direct line was one that was permanently connected between the alarm system and the control room. It cost a fortune each year, well over £600.00 if my memory is correct. I had been pushing for them to upgrade every time I went on site, but the answer was always no. It finally came to a head when BT said they were upgrading the exchange and that it wouldn’t be possible to keep the direct line. A meeting was held on site with the bosses and the surveyor/salesman, I was asked to attend to answer any technical questions. A couple of weeks later I was called in to be told that the panel change was going ahead and I was the one who would be doing it. I protested that there was at least two days work involved, “Someone will cover your area,” was the response. I said that it needs two people for some of the time, with walkie talkies to set up all the zones. I was promised everything would be sorted and as soon as BT had put in a new phone line, I would be taken off normal duties to carry out the work. It was six weeks before BT put the phone line in, I had almost forgotten about the job but was told I would be starting the following Tuesday. “Who is helping me,” was my main concern. “Dave from installations,” Dave was OK, he was a plodder, he got things done, but at his own pace, given a job, he would crack on until it was finished, however any problems and he would be ringing in for help.

The day before, I was in the office to collect all the kit for the job. I had planned in my head how I was going to do it and checked off all the kit as it was given to me. I also asked for two large steel boxes that I would use as junction boxes. In the stores were power supply boxes where the electronics had been removed and I grabbed two of those. The main thing that was emphasised was that the alarm system had to be left working at the end of each day. I’m there at 08.30 on the Tuesday morning and meet with Malcolm the site security person. “What’s first then,” he asks. “A cup of tea would be a good start.” About ten minutes later, he returned with two mugs of tea. “First thing I’m going to do is to mount the new kit, power it up and test it before I think about moving anything over. Tonight you will set the alarm as usual. Tomorrow you will set part on the old and part on the new and on Thursday you will set totally on the new system. That’s what I hope to do, but with sixty zones to move over, it is going to be a long process. I got another engineer coming to help me from tomorrow.” Malcolm nodded as he drunk his tea.

With sixty zones, there was a lot to do. Fortunately I was working in a corridor where there wasn’t many people passing and I could lay my kit and tools out along one side. The existing cabling for the system ran down the wall to the alarm panel which was located at head height. I decided to mount the new panel adjacent to the cable trunking but much higher which might save me having to extend all the cables. I put up the panel, installed a keypad next to the existing panel and plugged the communicator PCB onto the panel. I wired in the phone line and then the mains, added a battery and I was almost ready to power up. Last thing I did was to install the chip that identifies the site. With that done I connected up the battery, using the default codes I put the system into engineering and phoned through to put the system on test. “How long do you want it on test,” “until tomorrow please, I’m working on a panel swap.” The new panel had only eight zones but could be expanded to sixty four using additional modules with eight zones on each. I decided to mount these inside the steel boxes I was originally going to use as junction boxes, it would look much neater. I installed them next to the panel and ran new 50mm trunking above to take all the cables. I wired all the expansion modules in ready to start swapping the zones over the next day. Dave arrived just about at the same time as me the following morning. Malcolm arrived with tea and a packet of digestive biscuits. I explained to Dave with Malcolm listening as well what we were going to do. One zone at a time and checking it is working as we go along, we don’t move on to the next zone until the previous one is tested and wired in. Dave had brought with him the walkie talkies that he had picked up the night before. I asked Malcolm if he would be able to show Dave any zones he couldn’t find. There was a nod of approval. There was nothing but door contacts on the system. It was that old, PIR’s and other alarm devices that needed power were not generally available when the system was put in. It was decided that we would start with zone one and work our way through the old panel. All went well, as each zone was transferred over, it was labelled, checked and the description was added into the keypad. Dave had a boxful of door contacts with him and if he thought anything needed to be replaced, he was doing it as we went along. By 16.30 we had swapped over around half the system and I spent the last half hour explaining to Malcolm how the new system worked and how he would need to set both systems tonight. Meanwhile Dave was clearing away all our tools and the bits of cable and other rubbish left behind. At 17.00 we were gone knowing that with a fair wind, everything would be completed the next day. In the morning we were back at it and by 15.00 we were finished. Dave was removing the old panel from the wall, “take care with that,” I said, “Hugh Scully wants it for the next series of Antiques Roadshow.” He ignored me and chucked it in a rubbish box. When he had finished, Dave said that he was off, but if Billy asked, I was to tell him that he stayed until I left. I spent a good long time writing up a new log book then I went to find Malcolm to let him know everything was done. I went over everything to make sure he understood. He was going to be the one telling others, including the directors how it worked and I wanted to make sure he knew himself. The factory emptied at 17.00 and I waited with Malcolm so he could set and unset the system, what to do if there was a fault or it wouldn’t set and how to change the code to one of their own choice. With that all done, it was 17.30 when I left, a job well done and a load of pairs of free socks in a bag in the van.

Stocktaking, as well as all the stock in the stores, everything in the van needed to be counted and listed. We had to do this twice a year at the end of March and September. It was supposed to be done on the last day of the month, but it was invariably done during the last weekend. We had to do it in our own time. If we wrote the times down on our timesheet is was scored off. Most of us therefore did it on a Friday afternoon and covered the time by stretching the times spent on earlier jobs to cover up until 17.00. I found the easiest way for me to do it was to empty the van on my driveway and count everything as it went back in. This way I could tidy and sort things as I did it. During these stocktakes, it was only then that I realised I was a bit of a hoarder. The van was full of bits that I had picked up from the stores thinking, “I might need that one day,” There was stock in there that had been counted for about three years but never used, but you never know… I had been told before that I had too much stock in the van. My argument was that there wasn’t anything I couldn’t sort out if I was on call. A couple of weeks later when I was in the office, I was shown the stock sheets, I had more value in stock than anyone else, over £5k. I had more than the lowest three put together. “The stock is worth more than the value of the van,” said Billy. I countered saying, “if they bought better vans then that wouldn’t be the case.” “Bugger off and do some work,” was all Billy could come up with.

Next time: Things aren’t what they used to be, a mad Sunday and a rough part of Leicester.

© 10210ken 2023