It was several years ago when our basement smoke detector began blaring at 3:00 am. I jumped from our second-floor bed and met our son, Andy, in the hallway. We raced down the four flights of stairs leading to our basement. After the first couple of flights, I was doubting there was a problem; we had only had false alarms in the past. It was when we were on the third flight of stairs that we smelled the smoke. We leaped down the final flight of stairs and were shocked to find the smoke was coming from … the smoke detector.
I climbed onto a nearby chair to get a closer look at the smoking alarm. No fire yet, but there was plenty of smoke. I twisted and detached the smoke detector from the ceiling until it hung in the air by two wires. I should point out the alarm was not battery-operated but wired into our electrical system, which made my next decision less than stellar. I shouted over the blaring alarm asking Andy to get a pail of water, which he did in amazing time. I hoisted the pail over my shoulders so I could submerge the entire device and drown the problem. With the pail just inches from the detector, I realized that in my haste to respond my electrocution was imminent. I sheepishly lowered the bucket, saving my life and my son from seeing the ugly consequences of water meeting 120 volts of electricity.
As I took a few moments to regain my composure, I traced the cause of the smoke. There was a leaking water pipe in the ceiling. They were just slow drips, but they had run along a ceiling joist and created a fairly good-sized pocket of water just above the alarm. At some point in the night, the water had seeped through the gyprock and into the smoke detector, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that water and electricity don't mix. With the alarm removed from the dripping water, the smoke was all but gone. We killed the power, cut the smoke detector loose, and drained the remaining water. I really should have been a firefighter.
There was a life lesson born that smoky night. It had nothing to do with electrical safety but had me considering the potential consequences of hasty actions. How often had I given a rushed response and ended up making a situation worse? It's usually when we haven't thought something through, that we make a snap judgment, give a knee-jerk comment, or arrive at an incorrect conclusion. In other words, if we’re not careful, where there is smoke, we can create fire.
James the Apostle gives us a brief but brilliant piece of advice. He tells us simply that we ought to be quick to listen and slow to speak. If we’re tempted to hastily engage in verbal jousting, a nasty bite in an email, or a testy internet comment, it’s good to remember a considered approach beats electrocution every time.