don’t panic, but i need the number for the fire department

Last Wednesday afternoon, lets call it 4ish, I was in the process of feeding the boy a late afternoon snack whilst multitasking and discussing a contract with clients on the phone when suddenly there was a loud electrical buzz, whir, and pop coming from the general direction of my fridge. I’m a curious lass so I got up to investigate and that’s when I saw the flames lapping out from under my refrigerator door. Oh. My. God. The refrigerator is on fire. The refrigerator is on fire? THE REFRIGERATOR IS ON FIRE!! I muttered something to the effect of my house burning down to my clients and hung up the phone. Then I called the husband to inform him our our impending fiery doom. Then I had what we in our family like to refer to as a “trumpet moment” and a wee bit of panic began to take hold.

I should explain the trumpet moment reference. When I was about 10yrs old my step-mom Kathy was frying bacon on a Saturday morning. She opened the utensil drawer to pull out some tongs when she spied a tiny mouse. She grabbed the mouse by the tail with said tongs. As you might imagine, the mouse was not pleased. Escape was more of a concern than injury and mr. mousie began clawing away at her hands and trying to climb into her sleeve, tail be damned, squealing and screaming all the way. Not sure what to do next, Kathy froze in her tracks, staring at the the frantic mouse in the tongs, high pitched trumpet sounds escaping her mouth. She was torn between tossing the mouse in the bacon pan, carrying him outside to freedom, or dropping the mouse on the floor and running out of the house, leaving my dad to deal with the aftermath. Unable to make a firm decision in panic mode, her feet were going up and down but she wasn’t moving and her trumpet-like squeals were nearly as loud as the mouses, hence, a trumpet moment. To this day it remains of one of the single funniest images burned into my memory and it makes me giggle almost every time I think of it.

So, there I was, frozen in place, kitchen filling with smoke, trying to figure out how I was supposed to operate the fire extinguisher while holding the baby. I couldn’t put him in his highchair for fear the fire would spread. I couldn’t put him outside because he wouldn’t be contained. I couldn’t hold him and the extinguisher at the same time. What to do? WHAT TO DO? Though I’m sure it was only a few seconds, it felt like three forevers, but lucky for me, Beckett’s hacking cough brought me back to my senses. The kitchen had gone from normal to filled with thick black smoke in less than two minutes, and the choking wee one needed some air. I grabbed my car keys, put him in the car seat, and backed the car out of the driveway.

So, did I call 911? Sadly, no. Somehow, at least in my twisted brain, 911 is reserved for major emergencies and this wasn’t quite making the cut. I opted to call my dad instead. He looked up the non-emergency number for the fire department and I gave them a ring. A lovely woman answered the phone, politely informed me that I was a moron, and told me that two units were being dispatched to my location. Two units? Hmmm… maybe 911 would have been justified.

Ken arrived home before the firemen. He tried to rescue the cat but she refused to come out from under the bed. At this point the fridge seemed to have extinguished itself and I was again feeling silly about having bothered the first responders. The firetrucks arrived with great fanfare, screeching to a halt in front of our house, sirens blaring. Had Bex been a little older he would have found this to be very cool. As it was, he had been swept out of the house mid meal and was pretty peeved about the situation. Fair to say he was not impressed with the trucks.

The head fire guy was off his truck and rushing into the kitchen before his vehicle had stopped, emerging seconds later to announce that the fire had abated but that the smoke was at dangerous levels. “No hoses today, gentlemen, but we are gonna need the big fan” he said and his team sprang into action. It was pretty impressive to watch them move. I have every faith that these folks could handle any blaze before them in an efficient manner. After a few minutes inside the head guy came out to chat with us. Seems the fridge was the source of the blaze and it was smart that I moved the fridge away from the wall or else the wall likely would have ignited and things would have been much more dramatic. Um… I moved the fridge? Interesting. We were told that the condenser shorted out and that the accumulated dust and hair on the coils were the source of the flames. He informed us that we were supposed to remove the cover plate or kick plate and vacuum under the fridge weekly in order to prevent such events. What? Does anybody EVER do that? Did anybody know they were supposed to do that? The manual sure as heck doesn’t mention anything to that effect! I said that we vacuumed the vent plate thing regularly and was pretty much told that wasn’t good enough. According to fireguy, vacuuming the outside is somewhat ineffective if on neglects to remove the cover plate and vacuum underneath. Clearly, what with the fire and all. The big fan came out and all of the smoke was out of the house in under 10 minutes. Pretty fancy.

Needless to say, we have a shiny new refrigerator.

Here’s a question for you: Why, if the smoke was at dangerous levels, didn’t our effing smoke alarm go off? It doesn’t have a battery. It’s hardwired into our electrical system. Eeekkk! What if we’d been sleeping? We could have died from smoke inhalation for sure. Speaking of smoke alarms…

Can you say, scary?

FYI, the fireguy said this happens all the time. The fridge fires, I mean. We didn’t discuss smoke alarms and sleeping kiddos. So the moral of the story? Vacuum under the fridge, check your smoke detectors, and for pete’s sake, call 911 if there are flames coming out from under your refrigerator.

PS: The house is fine. The animals are fine. The people are fine, and Bex finally ate more food, albeit a few hours later. : )

PPS: You can read a study about sleeping kids and smoke alarm efficacy here. Wanna buy a vocal alarm?



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11 responses to “don’t panic, but i need the number for the fire department

  1. rachel

    Oh my gosh! How scary! Glad you are all OK!

    House fires petrify me. It’s probably my #1 worry. I don’t trust smoke detectors at all. Our last house they were hard wired with no battery and would just go off randomly.

    I’ve never heard of a fridge starting on fire before. I think I’ll go get the vacuum!

  2. emily a

    omg, wow!! that’s very scary, good thing you were awake and in the room when it happened. glad to hear everyone is safe. 🙂
    oh and what i was saying earlier, we are coming to KS on wed., flying into KC, driving down to my mom’s wed. night staying until fri. afternoon and then back up to Lawrence for a wedding on sat. so i’ll try and give you a ring when i’m there so we are in the same time zone 🙂 later tater.

  3. Helena

    I was wondering if you saw my post about your Korean shirts at cafepress. I just looked and they’re still the same.

  4. Jenn

    I was telling Jones this weekend about how smoke detectors don’t wake up children, I remember seeing a video similar to that when I was working for the health department – very frightening!!

    And yes, for future reference – when in doubt call 911!! That’s what they’re paid for and I guarantee you will never be chastised unless you call because your cat is missing or you need a ride to a doctor’s appointment (all which my first responder friends have told me happen).

    I guess looking on the bright side … Congrats on the new fridge!!

  5. Anonymous

    Try when you have long urls. It’s a very cool.

  6. Deanna

    Wow. That scares the crap out of me. I have never vacuumed behind our fridge and I have always been terrified of a fire during the night. Glad everyone is ok.

    On the other hand – just want you to know how i enjoy your blog. I always learn something. I am just sorry that your fridge had to catch on fire for me to learn something this time.

  7. Anonymous


    Nice job, Adrenaline Girl, on moving the fridge. Hey, you got Bex out, and that’s all that matters. I can’t BELIEVE Ken went back inside for Basil. Seriously, bro, you’ve got a baby to take care of now.

    And, I think you need to get right on those darn Korean t-shirts….I mean, since the fire is put out and all, you’ve got plenty of free time, right?

    Lurv, Munkee girl.

  8. Sarah

    I’ve never heard of a refrigerator fire either. Who in the word takes the cover off the back of their refrigerator once a month? That’s crazy. My house is lucky if I just vac the wall and the back side of my fridge twice a year. :O

  9. jjm

    Quick point of clarification: If there is a vent below your fridge doors near the floor, THAT is what the fireguy said to remove and vacuum behind. I wouldn’t mess with anything on the back.

    Thanks for all of your awesome comments, and Helena, with the new babe the cafepress stuff hasn’t been at the top of my priority list. If you care to email me we can discuss this further. Thanks.

    jjohnstonmyers at gmail dot com

  10. Heather

    Ok, seriously you have all the great stories….LOL! I’m so glad you all are ok and I’m glad that Beckett is not going to be emotionally scarred for life. I can’t believe I now have one more stinkin’ place to vacuum in my house, but I guess I better do it.

  11. Jen

    oh good grief! Now I know I will be pulling the fridge apart this weekend to vaccuum. Who the heck does that???

    Glad you guys are all ok! What a scary situation.

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