false-alarm-300x197“It was a dark and stormy night”

And all was quiet at the trail side condos at Jay Peak. Not a lot of action at 1:22 in the morning. Then, just for shits n’ giggles, the fire alarm decided to go off in #406.


Like it had done a few hours earlier. Shrieking, ear-piercing; the way a fire alarm should be, even going so far as to state the obvious to anyone who cared to listen in a digitized rendition of a serious woman’s voice: “Fire… Fire…” The alarm did what it was supposed to do: it very efficiently woke up all six people in the condo – four kids, two adults – who had just gotten into that nice, deep sleep where you start to really get some rest.

Except, of course, there was no fire. Just like there hadn’t been earlier that night. None of us smoke, there’s no wood stove in the unit, we hadn’t been microwaving nachos or baking cookies for a midnight snack. The dryer was not on, and except for a couple of cell phone chargers all the electricity was off. On a crazy warm night like this, the heating system wasn’t even running. Nothing burning nowhere.

I stagger out of bed to tell my confused wife and scared kids not to worry, that it is just a false alarm, that all would be okay – and then proceed to call the front desk.

A cheerful girl tells me she’ll send security right up. “You want fries with that?” 

A well-designed fire alarm is supposed to be impossible to ignore. And modern fire alarms are synchronized for optimal effect: if one goes off, they all go off. Imagine six of them going off, all at same time, in a confined space. It’s quite a racket, entirely impossible to ignore, even though I try. Syrian interrogators would love these babies. I last just eight minutes before I call the front desk back in desperation.

“They’re coming.” She assures me. “Regular or Cheese?” 

There’s a button on the alarm that says, “Push to Hush,” so I push, but it doesn’t hush. I push some more, I double-tap, I hold down the button for 30 seconds – still, it shrieks on. I have to bite my knuckles to stop myself from simply whacking the damn thing off the ceiling and stomping it to death. Besides, there are six of these mutants stuck on the wall of the condo — and two of them I simply can’t reach.

Eight more minutes. I call the front desk back.

“They’re on their way,” she says again. “Would you like to make that a McMeal?”

Good grief, I can’t help but think: what if this had been a real fire? We’d have been at least medium-rare if not well-done by now. What’s the point of a fire alarm, really, if all it does is drive you crazy but doesn’t actual trigger any useful action by anybody competent to do something?

Finally, a few minutes later, a frazzled but friendly and apologetic security guy shows up in a wool hat with a flash light. He tells me he’s the only guy on duty and was busy breaking up a fight somewhere else, so couldn’t come right away.

Seriously? One. Single. Guy. On a Saturday night at a resort filled with several hundred guests, many of them college kids? Is that even legal? He tells me he’s been on duty since 4PM and was the one who responded when our fire alarm went off earlier in the evening. I had walked out when the noise finally drove me nuts, so I hadn’t been there to watch him in action.

He explains that you have to push all the buttons on all six alarms more-or-less simultaneously to get them to shut up. He had done that with a colleague earlier. And so, at 2AM I find myself standing precariously balanced on a chair whacking at a fire alarm with a ski pole while the security guy is doing the same thing a few rooms away.

If it wasn’t for the fact that all of this entertainment and exercise is taking place in lieu of sleep, it’d almost be funny. And if he wasn’t busy covering his head with a pillow to drown out the noise, my teenager would no doubt be filming the antics with his phone to put on the Internet: #jaypeakfail #yolo #suckstobeus.

We whack away at various alarms for a bit – quite cathartic, actually – and finally manage to shut them all up. The security guy puts my ski pole back in its bag, and apologizes again on behalf of the resort. He assures me he’ll tell whoever needs to know about such things that the alarm system in #406 needs some TLC before they put anyone else in the condo.

He also says he thinks the resort should comp us our stay as compensation for this kind of nightmare. But that’s just his generous opinion — I have a nagging suspicion the bean counters and front desk managers will feel differently about it in the morning.

I can’t help but wonder: if absolutely nothing made the alarm go off at 8PM and again at 1:30AM, how do I know it isn’t going to go off again in a few hours? I ask the security guy as he’s leaving.

He shrugs. “You don’t.”

No, I guess I don’t. I hope for the resort’s sake the alarm stays quiet. My wife’s a very big fan of a good nights’ sleep – interrupt it twice, and someone is going to live to regret it for a very long time.

So I sit at the kitchen table; wide awake when I should be sleeping; my ears ringing, my kids trying to get back to sleep, my wife no doubt dreaming up ways of torturing people who wake her in the middle of the night. Did I mention she doesn’t like being woken up in the middle of the night?

Ibuprofen will deal with my headache, I suppose. And coffee in a few hours. A slow start to the day tomorrow will deal with the overtired kids. Too bad, really, since we came here to ski, not recover from resort-induced sleep deprivation.

Then we’ll head home, and I’ll try to make a note of just how long it’ll take before this snafu fades far enough into the past to no longer be the signature memory of our stay at Jay Peak. My guess is that will be some time.

PS: The alarm did go off again. at 6. And again at 8. And as we finally abandoned the Condo of epic fail at around 11. For all I know, it’s shrieking away up in the Northeast Kingdom as I writ this. And In fairness, the folks at Jay Peak agreed to give us a wee bit of a discount when I checked out earlier today, but in light of the exorbitant price they’d charged us for the condo in the first place it wasn’t really much of a break.

Truth be told, I don’t know what price to put on a night like that — but I’m pretty sure the people who read my reviews on TripAdvisor will be able to tell you exactly what something like that is worth.