This really did happen to me but because it was only a few years ago and because the customer is still a customer and because the customer doesn’t know what set the fire alarms off that day, until now of course, then I will be very circumspect and change the names to keep the guilty parties anonymous and the innocent still totally unsuspecting.
So we have as a customer a big supermarket group, one of the big ones, think of a supermarket round your way, yes, its probably that one, and we service some of their equipment, equipment that plugs into and uses their country wide computer network, and from time to time some parts of that equipment decide they don’t want to play and thats when we get called out to fix it.
And there was this one day, a weekend day it was, when I got the call to attend a store that was about 100 miles away from where I live and I dutifully set off in my car to attend.
And when I got there I couldn’t find anything wrong with the equipment and to further prove the case I plugged a spare unit onto their network and it didn’t work either, all of which pointed to their network circuit being the problem and therefore not our problem, but being as helpful as I am I decided to do a bit more rummaging around to see if I could fix what wasn’t my problem to fix and in doing so would earn lots of Brownie points.
And I rang another engineer for advice and he said to check the network switch panel where the cable that ran to our bit of equipment should have been plugged into their network, but being a big supermarket they have lots of things plugged into their switch cabinet and frankly I could have learned what all the switches do on the dashboard of a 747 quicker, and in any case, you can’t start pulling plugs out when the supermarket is open and busy on a Saturday morning.
“Our stuff is always plugged into socket number 45. always” the engineer told me on the phone
“Are you sure ?” I asked
“Yes, its always socket 45, always, definitely” he said
“Well 45 is empty” I told him, “but there’s something in 46 though”
“Well thats wrong then” he said, “someone’s been arsing about and plugged our stuff into the wrong socket, swap 46 back to 45”
And so I did, and then I walked back down the corridor and tested our equipment and it still didn’t work, so I walked back down to the office where the switch panel was and as I did so I heard a high pitched beeping noise, like an alarm of some sort really.
And when I walked into the office I couldn’t help but overhear the girl in there explaining to a manager on the phone that it was the fire alarm panel that was beeping very loudly and showing an alarm condition and that she had already called the fire alarm maintenance company out and should she let the Fire Brigade know ?
“Oh dear” thought I, “Its not their lucky day is it, first of all our stuff goes wrong and then the fire alarm goes wrong too” and I stood looking at the switch panel at socket 45 and the now empty socket 46, ah well I thought, its not worked anyway, might as well put the plug back into socket 46 and as I did so the high pitched beeping noise from the fire alarm panel stopped.
There was a fleeting moment, one of those moments suspended in time when that voice inside your head goes “Oops” and that other voice shouts “Leg it, quick”.
I locked up the cabinet, gathered up my tools and left in a hurry, just as the fire alarm company were arriving outside the front door and I swear that just a few hundred yards further down the road I passed a fire engine heading in the supermarkets direction, could have been a coincidence I suppose.
I do sometimes wonder though how many hours the fire alarm company spent trying to find a fault that didn’t exist any longer ?