Thursday afternoon, Daughter and I arrived home to a very strange odor in our house. It smelled a lot like burning hair.
Or perhaps burning fur.
Our first thought was that Lily had removed the furnace vent again and met with an untimely demise.
But no, Lily was safe and sound. We scouted around the inside and outside of the entire house but could not locate the source of the smell, and it was getting stronger by the minute. The furnace fan was making a strange high-pitched noise, so I shut it off. If the smell was coming from the furnace, it certainly wasn't obvious.
Fearing some hidden electrical fire, I called the non-emergency number of the fire department and asked if they could just send someone out to take a peek. Without the fire engine, please.
The answer was no. They would be happy to come take a peek, but only with their trucks.
"Okay, I said, but please don't turn on the sirens. We have cats, you know."
Knowing the firefighters were on their way (and we hadn't been expecting company), I told Daughter to round up the cats and put them in the car, in case we needed to make a speedy getaway from a burning house. She suggested shutting them in her room instead, until we knew for sure if the house was on fire. I thought that was a good compromise. We then proceeded to "tidy up a bit" for our firefighting guests.
In a matter of moments, not one, not two, but THREE firetrucks pulled up in front of our house. Being a bit unsure about Fire Etiquette, I decided to err on the side of hospitality, so I went out to greet them and thank them for coming.
They entered our house and dispersed with radios and heat-seeking equipment. They checked every room. They asked to see my curling iron. (Good thing they didn't find all the dead curling irons in the bottom drawer.) They checked my ionic blow dyer with the diffuser. They spotted Daughter's foam rollers on her bathroom counter and wondered if they were electric. They looked suspiciously at the vacuum cleaner. (I assured them it hadn't been used for days. In retrospect, that was probably stating the obvious.)
At my request, they even smelled the new rug that I had just brought home from Target to use in my scrapbook area. We all agreed that it had a strange odor, but it wasn't the odor in question.
"What's behind that door?" asked the firefighters warily as they neared Daughter's bedroom.
"Two cats," I responded. They scurried the other way. Smart guys, these firefighters.
After thoroughly checking every nook and cranny, they concluded that the house was not on fire, so I covertly handed Daughter the camera and asked her to take some pictures of the trucks. But somehow in all the excitement of escorting firefighters around our house, she set the camera down without getting any shots.
After the fire chief arrived, the firefighters began to focus on the furnace. Then they radioed for a "face to face" (that's firefighter talk for a little chat) in our kitchen and agreed that the furnace was the source of the odor. Apparently when the motor quits working, the grinding metal of fan blades emits a "burning hair" type of smell. That particular evening the temperature was below zero, so the firefighters recommended that I call Mr. Furnace Repair Guy right away, lest our pipes freeze.
Was I a bit embarrassed that I called the fire department for what turned out to be a furnace problem? Yep, I was. And I apologized profusely. But they assured me that they make lots of calls like this and, in fact, had been on a similar call earlier that day. They told me that I had done the right thing...better safe than sorry.
So, before I could offer them a cup of General Foods International Coffee or take a group photo, our very nice new friends loaded up their equipment, radioed the station, and drove away.
Tinsel and Lily emerged from the bedroom without encountering a heat-seeking device.
And $503 bought us a brand new, odor-free furnace motor that very evening.
Considering what might have been, I was ever so thankful to pay it.