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PEEPING SMOKE-ALARM TALES EMERGE FROM WOODWORK

Can you stand two more smoke alarm stories? Not long ago I wrote about peeping smoke alarms, but I never realized that this common household device had spawned so many tales!

The basic fact behind the stories is that when a smoke alarm's battery runs down, the device begins to emit a peeping or chirping sound at intervals. The idea is to alert the homeowner to change the battery.The flaw in this strategy is that by the time the battery fades, so too has the homeowner's memory of how the device works. Some people never get around to mounting the smoke alarm in the first place. They tuck it away in a cupboard or drawer and forget it. So by the time the alarm starts peeping its warning, they have no idea the sound is coming from a smoke alarm.

Hence the stories. My column mentioned mystery chirps heard coming from basements, attics and storage areas. Homeowners mistook the sounds for the chirps of insects or birds, and some people even sealed off the area and called exterminators.

Other people learned to live with the annoying sound, assuming it to be a noisy cricket until a guest in their home recognized the chirp for what it was. How em-bar-rass-ing!

While smoke alarm stories are not actually legends in the sense of being fiction told as true, they do qualify as modern folk stories, since many tellers add or improve upon the facts. Also, the stories strike a familiar chord by portraying a problem that many people have experienced.

But I never realized just how many people until I wrote that recent column. I was flooded with letters from folks who had similar smoke alarm stories to tell. One tale with a new twist came from a woman right here in Salt Lake City who wrote that instead of cheeping like a bird, her alarm "honked like a Canadian goose."

Her alarm had been mounted on a wall stud in an unfinished room. By the time the warning honker began to sound, workmen remodeling the home, failing to notice the alarm, had put sheet rock over the studs. The honks were coming from inside the new wall!

The woman wrote, "I had to listen to that darn honking for three months!"

My favorite response to the column came from Mary LeCrone of Ga-hanna, Ohio, who wrote:

"We surely wish your article had appeared a few days sooner. We had a chirping, or more like a beeping sound, in our house for over a week, and it had nearly driven us out of our minds. The sound occurred around the clock every 40 to 45 seconds, day and night.

"We disconnected our portable phone and our touch-tone phone, but we still heard the noise. After five days of it, we called our security system installer asking him to come and check our alarm system. Luckily, he could not come that day.

"About 4 a.m. the next morning, my husband Eldon couldn't sleep, so he got up and tried to `hone in on' the beeps. He traced them to a dresser and began pawing through the drawers; there he finally uncovered the smoke alarm that he had bought some time ago and never installed.

"Blessed sleep at last! We had lost sleep both because of the beeps themselves and because of the irritation of not being able to track them down.

"Next morning we canceled the call to the security alarm company, and two days later, there was your article in the paper."

For Mary and Eldon LeCrone, the moral of the story, I guess, is that at least now they know they were not alone in suffering from smoke alarm frustration.

Other readers need not send me more home smoke alarm stories. However, if you happen to have any stories involving smoke alarms in hotels, motels, offices, airliners, etc., send them along. I might as well try to compile a complete file on the subject."Curses! Broiled Again," Jan Harold Brunvand's fourth collection of urban legends, is available in paperback from Norton. Send your questions and urban legends to him in care of the Deseret News.

1992 United Feature Syndicate Inc.