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SERVICE CALLS, no matter how innocent they appear on paper, can sometimes teach us one of life's lessons.


May 1, 2002 12:00 PM,
By Steve Filippini

I was once dispatched to a customer’s home with a service ticketthat stated the lady of the house was tired of having her alarm bellsring whenever she flushed her toilet. I’d never heard of water-flowdetection devices being installed in a home before, so, as I saw it,she was obviously a crackpot and an easy $65 service charge to boot. Iarrived at the home and watched the customer flush her toilet severaltimes without a sound coming from the alarm bells. I smiled, asked herto sign the service ticket and left to get a cup of coffee. I had justmade my daily quota, and it was time to hide out at the doughnut shopuntil quitting time.

A few days later, I was sent back to the same house for the sameproblem. It seemed the woman’s neighbors were becoming aware of herbathroom schedule, and she wasn’t happy about it. I watched her flushher toilet at least ten times without a beep. With every flush, thecustomer got increasingly physical with the toilet handle. I evenoffered to flush as well, suggesting that maybe it was the techniqueand not the resulting action that was causing the bells to ring. Iignored her icy glare and flushed her toilet a few more times. Nothinghappened. By now she knew the routine: “Please sign here.”This was followed by my next stop: “One large coffee,please.”

After about a week, I was again summoned to the residence. I wasglad; it was going to be another easy afternoon. But when I arrived,the lady’s plumber greeted me at the front door. I have learned overthe years that this is not a good sign. We walked into the lady’sbathroom where I found her standing there with an almost wild look ofdefiance in her eyes. She flushed the toilet and almost cried out fromexcitement when her alarm bells started ringing. After the ringingstopped, the plumber and the customer looked at me.

Okay, I admit it: I was stunned.

The plumber then pointed to a hole he cut in the drywall behind thetoilet exposing a large, black, metal pipe. The pipe had a wire runningright through it, which meant there was no point in trying to deny thatit was our fault. It appeared our installer had drilled from thebasement through the bathroom from inside the wall and nailed the pipealong the way. As it turned out, the wire was for the alarm bells, andnow, when the toilet flushed, the water surged against the burr causedby the drill bit and wore away the insulation. When the exposed copperwire grounded against the pipe, it completed a +12V path that made thealarm bells ring.

Not only did I refund her the last three service charges, but mycompany paid for the repairs to the pipe and the saturated drywallbehind the toilet. If there is a lesson to be learned from thisexperience, it’s that the customer is not always crazy. They may notalways be right, but they’re usually more sane than we sometimes givethem credit for.

Steve Filippini is regular columnist for S&VC and a seniorsecurity technician with over 20 years of experience in the securityinstallation industry. He can be reached at

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