Monday, January 27, 2014

Home fire safety tip . . .

(originally posted 1/27/2014)

My wife and I learned something Friday night,  After we went to bed. And were half asleep.

Smoke/Fire alarms 'wear out'. And get noisy when they die. And they like to die in the middle of the night. (one Lowe's consumer review mentioned the "Midnight Fire Alarm Club").

Our house has 'hard-wired' fire/smoke alarms. This means there's a dedicated circuit connecting all the fire alarms in the house, and if one goes off, they ALL go off.  That's a good thing -- if there's a fire downstairs we might not hear the alarm down there; Allyson (whose apartment is downstairs) might not hear a fire alarm going off upstairs.

According to the firemen who 'visited' us Friday, the alarms have a useful life of about 10 years. Ours had a manufacture date-stamp of 2001. And, per the nice firemen, when one 'hard-wired' alarm dies, it sends a signal to all the others and they all shriek. The US Fire Administration (part of FEMA) also says replace after 10 years.

In our case, all EIGHT of the alarms.

And there's no way to shut them off -- no 'breaker' on the electrical box says 'fire alarms' (which is also a good thing because there are dummies who would switch them off) but even if there were one, the battery back up in each would keep it shrieking.

So after 14 1/2 minutes of shrieking (we couldn't find any fire, smoke, gas, etc.) we called the fire department and they kindly responded, getting to our house about 2 minutes after we called.

And 90 seconds after the 15-minute 'automatic reset' in the alarms shut them off.

Saturday I went to Lowes and bought 8 replacement BRK/First Alert (tm) alarms (and there's a 20% discount if you buy 6 or more, so I paid $15 for each $19 alarm); it took only 30 minutes to switch all of them out because they had matching 'plugs' to connect them to the house.  The alarms 'twist' in and out of the retaining/trim ring, while the new alarm had a different ring, all I did was loosen two screws holding it in, jiggled it out and jiggled in the new ring, tightened it, plugged in the new alarm and twisted it into the new ring.  The hardest part was moving the ladder from alarm to alarm.

So, folks, the bottom line is look at your alarms - if they were made before 2004 you need to replace them.  And consider doing it anyhow if they were made in 2005 or before.You'll sleep better (literally and figuratively)

FOLLOWUP - 4/7/2014. 

Today I got the following email from a friend: 


Yesterday afternoon while my husband and I were enjoying a quiet and relaxation time, all of a sudden the smoke/fire alarms started sounding off all throughout the house.  We both bounded up and went dashing through the house and I was feeling of walls and sniffing.  We have a nice staircase to the attic and I ran up there and there was nothing anywhere.  Well, of course, what did I think but the conversation that we had about something similar happening to you.  I hardwired alarms have been in service about ten and one-half years.  I went to the electrical box and there was a breaker that said “fire alarms”.  I tripped it off and the alarms were still sounding.  I thought good grief what will we do?   My husband is not the least bit mechanically inclined!  AND then it stopped.  I said to him, this is not the end of it.  He got the step ladder and proceeded to tell me we should replace the batteries.  Hummmmmm….not a fix I thought, but I went along with it.

The long and short of it is that they sounded again, and then again.  I determined that the breaker did turn off the electricity to all of them, but the batteries made them still sound off.  Then we removed the newly inserted fresh batteries.   AND then we had silence, but no protection.   We made a quick trip to Lowe’s and bought the six pack you described.  NOW like I said my husband is not the least bit mechanically inclined and certainly not trained in electric matters.  He wouldn’t touch them and he dared me to.  I googled it and I know that it is matter of turning off the juice and connecting the black wire, the white wire, and the red wire and reattaching them – but I was under orders not to touch them. 

FOR NOW, we have the circuit breaker off and the batteries removed.  I have one sole alarm/carbon monoxide unit in the middle of my one-story house and am praying for nothing to happen until we have someone in the house later this week that I think will replace them for us.



Friday, January 24, 2014

(another) Stupid Rule

This is an excerpt from a letter that went to four members of the Virginia General Assembly from my area. The Auxiliary Grant program (which I've commented on before) is a stepchild of "Virginia Hates the Poor and We're Doing it Only Because the Feds Make Us" funding, which means it gets nothing.

I’m court appointed guardian for an individual in assisted living who receives the cruel joke Virginia calls Auxiliary Grant.  This isn’t about the stupidity of the niggardly funding of Auxiliary Grant although, as you can imagine, I am more than willing to discuss that at another time.  Instead I have another problem related to a quirk in the rules.

Auxiliary Grant (AG) funds are to help with Assisted Living Facilities (ALF) charges. A significant percentage of ALF residents are there because they’re disabled – mentally (including drug/alcohol abuse/addiction) or physically (age or other impediment). Many of them have a guardian/conservator appointed for them.  In short, many if not most of the individuals are unable to handle money.

So imagine my surprise when I learned, recently, that Virginia Department of Social Services, Auxiliary Grant Manual, (Volume II, Part III, Chapter J, page 12) states

AG payments are issued by check directly to the individual unless an authorized payee has been designated. If an authorized payee has been designated, the check shall be issued to the authorized payee. An authorized payee may be the individual's court appointed conservator or guardian or the person with a valid power of attorney with the authority to accept funds on behalf of the individual. It is the individual’s or the individual’s payee’s responsibility to use the money to pay the ALF/AFCH. The check cannot be issued in the name of the facility or home.
While I’ve acted as guardian for many people for many years, this is the first I knew that AG payments could NOT be payable to the ALF.  I find no logic for it.

My specific problem is that “Jane” for whom I act as guardian lives in an ALF. Her income totals 741.00/month (2014) between Social Security and SSI benefits; because she receives SSI she also automatically receives Medicaid and AG.  The Roanoke City DSS (through the Department of Finance) routinely sends AG payments, BUT THEY ARE PAYABLE DIRECTLY TO JANE who has been declared incompetent. Somehow, at the ALF, because the checks were addressed and mailed to her, she got the checks, cashed them and spent the money – she doesn’t know any better – and her rent is unpaid.

Now the ALF is demanding $2420.00 because (a) they didn’t intercept the checks (which they have done in the past) and (b) the checks invited the abuse by how they were written.

I have asked that the legislators from my area contact Commissioner Shultze at Virginia DSS and ask her to fix the abject stupidity of the manual and let AG funds for an ALF be paid to the ALF directly. At least require AG funds be paid to the Guardian/Conservator where one is appointed, although why we would have to ‘launder’ the funds is beyond me. (however if that’s the way it is, I’ll take a 5% fee as fiduciary for doing so!)