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That Good Old (half-)Frenchman Magic


Entry 10/24/2014 05:44:16 PM – Mentat 771

…Or “Hello Gas Company? I would like a heaping side of drama with your free service.

Thursday night, when the weather was gloomy and the temperatures in the mid 50s F (10s C) with the weekend looking more and more like the sort of thing we see frost in the morning, I had decided to tackle getting the space heater in the apartment re-lit. I had turned it off and the end of last winter because unlike the old gas-on-gas which was a pain in the ass to find the pilot, this one was clearly and easily spotted on the other side of the door. Of course, that door is also on the right side of the heater and can only be reached when I move the stove away to be able to reach it and reach around to the control valve. I know it’s an old space heater as I can barely read the tag on the backside of it and if the water heater in the basement is an indication of the age of things in the house; the space heater is as old if not older than I am.

All right not older than me. It has a pilot primer (press down the knob/valve in order to light the pilot), it’s an early stage of this safety feature as you press and hold it down for 30 seconds, then you light the pilot and the voila, it’s lit. I can tell it’s up there in age…

It took a little of a struggle, a pen light held in my mouth all cat burglar-style, ensure I can reach both inside the door to the pilot and reach around to the valve controls, try to light it and all that… In about 20 minutes of grunting, swearing and taking breaks, it was lit and a quick test of turning up the thermostat proved to me it was working properly.

Later on in the evening when I was hankering down to sleep, I wandered over to the sink in the pantry area and could have sworn I was smelling the faint odor of natural gas. Getting a bit paranoid I sniffed around the space heater which was where I thought I had smelled it and sure enough there a little there. Turning up the thermostat on the space heater to ensure the pilot didn’t blow out when I shut the heat off earlier, I heard it kick on and stay lit after several attempts of turning it on and off.

Shrugging it off to my inherent paranoia and coupled with the possibility it was a bit of lingering gas from the struggle I went through, I opened one of the windows in the kitchen to air the house out and get some sleep.

The next morning, after shutting the window and confirming I couldn’t smell any gas from the space heater, I had to rush over to my mother’s house because I missed the call that the visiting nurse was over early, and thought she was still there at 9:20 as my uncle was supposed to be coming over to pick her up for her biopsy appointment at 9:30. Fortunately for me, the visiting nurse was long since gone and my mother let her in by throwing the keys out the window to open the door on the street. Helping my mother downstairs and into uncle’s truck, she was off to the hospital for her biopsy, leaving me there for a couple of hours while I watched her Monster Child…

The day went as expected. I took care of her needs while she sat down, ran a couple of errands (bank and Walgreen’s to pick up her prescription). Realizing I didn’t have my wind breaker, I headed back to the house to pick it up and realized that I smelled the faint odor of gas again as I walked in the door to my apartment.

I did the errands, came back to my mother’s house, told her about it and then called the gas company (here in Rhode Island, Gas & Electricity are the same company). I spoke with James in customer service and asked him about the free service when gas is being turned on at an apartment. I remembered when I moved into my apartment in the Valley, during the visit the Service man check the various equipment: Water Heater, Stove, Space Heater/Heating service if it’s gas and ensure there’s no leaks. I asked him whether it’s a free service for someone hat already has their service up and running.

He told me it was free and asked why. I explained to him that since turning on the space heater and lighting the pilot there was a faint odor of gas and I thought that perhaps there might be a problem.

He started the speech not turning any of the lights or electrical appliances and getting out of the house immediately not to re-enter until the service man was there.

I told him I’m aware of this, but assured him that it wasn’t that bad, as my computer had been running the entire time and re-affirmed the odor in the house was faint, not overpowering. I explained I’ve been in a house where a gas feed had broken and knew the difference between a potential calamity and a small issue. This was the small issue.

He told me that someone from the gas company would be there in half hour.

I told him that there’s no way for who they’re sending to ring doorbells to gain entry (there are none on the doors to the house) and gave him a number to call as I was across the street taking care of my mother and could be out there when they arrive. I stressed again it wasn’t an emergency, as it’s only a faint odor.

And what follows is the result of that call…

I’m sitting there at my mother’s seeing that the clock reading was close to the time the gas company is supposed to show up. I also heard the sounds of sirens as they’re screaming up the street and seeming to stop near to where I am at my mother’s. Looking out the window I see this big-assed paramedic’s truck blocking up Piedmont St. I then look around outside and saw several firemen in full gear including oxygen tanks walking around outside of my house.

“Jesus, the whole of the fire department is here and at my house. Something’s up. I’ll check what’s going on and walk Jack when I get back.”

“We’ll be here,” my mother says to me as I’m putting a windbreaker and hat on and rushing down the stairs.”

I get outside and halfway to the door to my apartment, I say loudly, “Is there something I can help you with, Gentlemen?”

Someone dressed as the Fire Marshall says, “the gas company called us of a report of a gas leak at this house, did you report it?”

“I did! Though I assure you it’s not as bad as needing the whole of your firehouse here on my front door step. If one or two of you gentlemen will please follow me, I’ll lead you up and explain the situation to you while you check what’s wrong.”

Four come up — the Captain (he had the bars to prove it) and three of his men with various gas detection equipment in hand. One of them was complaining about the obstructions with the cleaning supplies on the first floor landing… Yeah, good luck getting those moved, I mumbled.

This is the only apartment with closets, the others had been boarded up years ago and the only reason why I have them is because the last tenant ripped those boards out gashing the frames and the floor in the process. My first floor neighbor not having the luxury of strength or help doesn’t and has had whatever can’t fit in a closet out in the hallway for longer than I’ve been living in the apartment.

I stressed to them this wasn’t that big an emergency as it was a light odor and only happened after six and a half hours while I was over my mother’s house caring for her.

A minute after that there were 8 men in the house.

Soon after that there was all 12 loitering in my 15′ x 15′ kitchen firing various questions at me scatter shot. There’s two trucks and the paramedic van all blocking most of Atwells Ave and mouth of Piedmont St to Atwells and only the Fire Marshall outside standing by car at Piedmont and Adams Sts. And of course, the rubberneckers wondering what’s going on…

“Can you verify that there are two active gas meters?” One of the last to come into my house asked. Yes, just me and my downstairs neighbor live in this house, the rest is unoccupied. The other apartments haven’t been occupied in more than 10 years.

“When did you notice the smell?” At first last night when I lit the space heater, but after that, only when I came back to the house to pick up a windbreaker to walk the dog a short time ago. The apartment has been unoccupied the last six and a half hours.

“The pilots on this stove aren’t lit,” the Captain said like he suddenly discovered the problem. No, they never worked. This stove was kludged in a way that the stove top and oven only light when turned on and a match is set to them. You know like a camper (propane) stove…

“We’re going to check the downstairs (with the first floor neighbor).” Gentlemen, I guarantee you, she smokes like a chimney and if the leak was from downstairs she’d know about it. We all would, in fact.”

There was a lot of repeat questions, and a lot more repeat answers. Apparently I was Speaking in Tongues or my experience in living in apartments for more than 30 years meant nothing.

No I’ve been here 8 months and while I thought I smelled it toward the end of last winter, I didn’t run the heat much since the end of February and shut off the space heater in the middle of March.

No, the stove has never given me problems in the 8 months I’ve been living here.

Yes, the stove is lit by match and later on with a barbecue lighter (showing them as it rests on the fireplace mantel in the kitchen). If you look carefully you’ll see this oven is kludged having a secondary gas level for the oven under the stove top. Pulled up the stove top to point it out to the Captain.

Yes, I’ve worked with ovens from the very modern with induction technology to the old kerosene ovens of the early 20s and can pretty much know the difference between a proper working stove and one that’s kludged together to make it work. If you think this one’s bad, you should have seen the beat up piece of shit at my apartment on Tuxedo Ave.

No, I never smelled gas from the spring through summer up until lighting the space heater for the coming winter last night. In fact, having been here 8 months I don’t recall there ever being a gas smell when the windows had been closed or the air conditioner was running during those times. It only seemed to have happened within the last 24 hours and even then it’s just mildly annoying.

There were a couple of other questions, all of which I stated it only started when I re-lit the pilot on the space heater last night.

When they were done asking me questions, I asked, “So gentlemen did any of those meters you brought with you find anything?”

“No. We did smell something when we came into the house, but the meters show nothing.”

I was about to open the window in the kitchen when the Captain said, “keep that window closed.”

Keeping the window shut, I turned on the captain and said with a smile, “Oh I should listen like when I asked you for one or two men to check this all out instead of all of the firehouse in my kitchen?” I looked around everyone in a mildly accusing manner loitering in my kitchen. Pointing to bedroom and office, I continued, “Besides, two windows are already open and have been since I left to care for my mother this morning. One there and the other there.”

At this point they had check everywhere they could when the Captain said, “Where’s the Gas Company?” Actually I think he said, “where the hell is the Gas Company?”

Almost on cue he comes up the stairs and hearing that said, “my GPS sent me to Cranston instead of here.” I saw him at my open doorway coming in.

So I explained everything once again to the Utility man. The Captain said a couple of things to him as well, but I didn’t really listen to him at this point. Why should I? He wasn’t like he was listening to me.

As it turns out five minutes into the examination the service man’s equipment did find a leak. It was coming from the (right) pilot on the stove. Also a small leak from the regulator underneath the stove top.

While the Service Man double was checking the feeds into the apartment I remember him saying something about thinking he’d be in trouble with the Fire Department. I explained to him if anyone’s going to be in trouble, it should be the person that took the call (at National Grid). I told him repeatedly that this wasn’t an emergency and that all I was asking for was someone to use the equipment they have access to, to double check there was nothing wrong with the space heater. I reinforced that having lived at this place for 8 months, if I had smelled it sooner, I would have assuredly called someone to check it out (then and there). The fact that it only happened now indicated something was different than the end of February/beginning of March and it involved the space heater.

Looking out the window, I saw all the trucks and the Fire Marshall were long gone. “Oh and besides, they’re all gone, I think you’re safe.” I told him.

Yeah, they left 10 minutes after the utility company showed up without so much as a “bye” or “is everything good?”.

After checking the feeds and everything else, the final conclusion based on my discussion with the service man was with the space heater being turned back on, it increased the pressure for the gas feed and in doing so it was enough to cause the pilots to partially leak from the stove… It had to do with need and pressure to service that need. According to what I saw on the service man’s detection meter over his shoulder was that it was just hitting 1.

While the service man said it wasn’t enough to be a hazard, it was enough to smell up the place and only would be dangerous if the apartment was empty for longer than a day at a time. As a temporary fix he told me I need to shut off the gas main to the stove when I’m not using it. Basically one more lever to throw when I want to cook something.

He even got a smile out of it for the over-compensation of it all, given that he saw my computer (and network) was up and running through the entire thing..

After the gas man was finished here, I then went downstairs to my neighbor’s apartment to apologize for the intrusion from the fire department. That’s when I ran into her my neighbor’s daughter coming over to check her mother. I told her the whole sordid story about simply calling the utility company to check the gas stove.

She’s telling me that one of the neighbors called her to tell her the fire department was on the street at her mother’s place and when she got here to Piedmont there was no way for her drive into the driveway of her house across the street.

We all got a bit of a laugh out of it approaching the whole incident like Yankees would in “…it’s better to be safe than sorry.” She talked with her mother and told her of she needed anything to just go across the street to her place.

I walked my mother’s Monster Child (Jack) and when I came back, then came the real fun explaining it to my landlord Anthony as he came home toward the tail end of it.

Don’t get me wrong, he’s an understanding albeit old-world Italian man who looks like he’s one step away from being homeless, but my family knows he’s got a lot of money and owns a lot more property on Federal Hill than he appears to.

After bringing my mother’s dog up to her, Anthony and I came up to the apartment and instead of trying to pantomime, use a bit of sign language and talking really slow (because he’s hard of hearing) to explain what happened, I decided writing the whole thing out in big, block-printed letters because it would be faster for the two of us. So about 45 minutes later, everything was explained as best as it could be. Well that and he explained what the gas service man already reinforced for the time being.

Of course during my explaining it to my landlord, there was the minor scare as the landlord was trying to prove the leak by using an open flame against the regulator and the pilot lights and then most of the pipes underneath the stove top. While I knew the leaks weren’t much and certainly weren’t enough to cause rogue flames from erupting, that didn’t stop me from having a moment or three of my life flashing before my eyes thinking about gas leaks and open flames… and explosions… or my death (and my landlord’s) caused by a man, hard of hearing, older than my mother.

So for right now, I’ve shut the main off to the stove, left the space heater on and will only turn on the main when I was going to cook something. Basically it’s very much like using a camp stove on a hitch trailer or an RV. I’ll have to do this, until such time I can get a repair man in or get the stove replaced. Whichever comes first.

Later on, I found myself laughing at the drama of it all during my afternoon walk (and making me look like a goofy madman to anyone walking by) as such a little problem turned into this insane — just on the safe side — over-done mess. It makes me wish there was some small utility store to come in and check it without charging outrageously for something done in less than 5 minutes. Or the Utility Company not being a bunch of over-compensating drama queens because of the general stupidity of people. Well that and the overall litigious nature of the American Public.

And that’s about it. I’m going to wander. Until the next time.

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