Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Safety Officer Speaks, or, Never Play With Fire

Getting down to brass tacks today, I finally finished vacuuming the after-Christmas rearranging and changing, etc. In the last couple days I have safely stowed the ornaments, the putting away of which revealed the pitiful state of the bookshelf and surrounding piles. And so that had to be dealt with. How could I have so many books that I still haven't read? I pulled them all out, stuck them in a basket by the bed and cleaned the area. Once the books were back into a satisfactory state, I finished the vacuuming, which included curtains, lamp shades and the fan blades above the table. (After finishing lunch, thank you so much mom!) By then I had the vacuum so close to the kitchen that I finally remembered a task that keeps catching my eye, just not at the right moment--the dusty state of my kitchen curtain. Having completed that task my eye fell on the refrigerator.

Ah yes, the refrigerator. Did you know that you have to clean the underside of your refrigerator periodically? Especially if you have A) pets, B) a very dusty house, C) a lint-source very near, or D) children. Hmm, we fit all of these qualifications, so we try to clean this under-fridge space at least once a year, but preferably twice. But we didn't always know about this important cleaning chore, which brings up the subtitle of this post.

Once upon a time, in a house far, far away (okay, really only about 10 miles away) there lived a mostly young couple with a brand-new baby. Oh, and cats--three cats. The happy, unknowing couple had lived in this little yellow house for about 6 years, all of them with the cats, when one day mommy and baby went to visit grandma in another town. Poppa was planning to go away for the weekend on an important fishing trip with clients from work, but as things so often go, something else came up and he didn't make it on the trip. Instead, he went home to the little yellow house. When he came in the door, after petting the cats, he immediately noticed a bad smell. A terrible, something-is-catching-on-fire smell, and a scary electricity-gone-bad sort-of-sound. All of it coming from the kitchen. And those lights--they never came out from under the refrigerator before! Quickly Poppa raced over, unplugged the fridge and grabbed whatever was handy to put out the potential fire. Blessedly, cutting the electrical current was all that was needed and no fire ensued. Poppa spent some time moving the fridge and suveying the damage (yup, we needed a new fridge), then opening windows to air out the house. At which point mommy and baby arrived home. They were surprised to see Poppa, but boy were they happy to have a home!

Of all the things my mom taught me to clean, she never mentioned this one. Years worth of cat hair had collected underneath and caused all the problem. To some of you, this may seem like a no-brainer, but I once had a college roommate who couldn't change a light bulb--we all have our failings. Truthfully, I just never thought about it. Fast forward to today, when I thought to clean this so-convenient-to-get-to-space. Here's a pic of some of the fun.
Mind you, this is after I'd already vacuumed quite a bunch, so what you see here is just a little bit of the lint. The whole space underneath was full of this stuff and we just cleaned it about seven months ago or so. Go ahead--if you haven't cleaned yours, go take a look. Should I tell you here that if you haven't cleaned your fridge bottom lately and you're thinking you should, please, please, please! UNPLUG IT first! The power won't be off long enough to cause any problems, but crispy friends are never a good thing. And be prepared--you may have to come up with some creative options for cleaning--see my stick with a paper towel for swiping the really-hard-to-get-to-spots? I'm not, btw, going to recommend you undo any screws or bolts without consulting someone who knows more about these things because you never know what may come loose if you do, but please do the best you can.

And while I was thinking back to our almost fire so long ago, I realized that it was exactly one year ago today that the ground wire from the street to our house burnt out and shot 220 through our home, killing some appliances and starting a near-fire in our basement. Remember that a power strip is just a way to add more outlets for your convenience. A small surge protector keeps the electricity flow even to whatever items are plugged into it, but it does not protect against any kind of catastrophic event. If you have a major surge, those little things can blow-up/melt-down and start a fire. Keep the areas around them clean. BTW, they don't protect your computer, either. If you want to make sure your computer is safe through that kind of event, you want it plugged into something more substantial. When I left my graphics job (ten years ago this spring!) I bought a major battery back-up unit that has saved my computer twice: once when lightning struck our home and came in through the phone line, and last winter through the 220 episode. This little back-up unit died over Christmas (I probably should have replaced it sooner) and I almost went with a heavy-duty-looking surge strip, until I asked for help. The guy said to not be fooled; even the big-looking surge protectors aren't enough in a catastrophic event. Well, since we've lived through two, so I'm not taking any chances.

Oh, and don't play with matches either! The safety officer has spoken.

PS--I don't know why the pics came out with the strange white spaces. I've tried adjusting and re-exporting, but it's not helping. It's late and I haven't read any of those books, so we're just living with it. But, if you have any tips on how to fix it, please share--they really look dorky...

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