“It smells like something died,” I told my husband, Dana, as we walked up the grassy path toward our front door on Friday after a full day of teaching together at our children’s school.

Our 6-year-old son trailed behind us, prattling on about his day as we climbed the porch steps and Dana unlocked the front door.

“Gas!” I cried.

We stumbled back, pushing our son away as the stench of propane flooded outside. Then out of the doorway popped the black tip of our dog’s pointy nose, shiny eyes looking up from the shadows before disappearing back inside.

“Fable!” I shouted. Then, to my husband, “Get the dog!”

We pushed the door open and Fable reappeared, wiggling outside. I hooked a finger through her collar and led her down the driveway with my son, while Dana held his breath and ducked inside to open windows.

“One of the burners on the stove was turned on.” Dana hurried out a few seconds later. “I switched it off. I’ll open more windows.”

We’d been gone for eight hours while the unlit burner had filled our house with deadly gas. The reek of propane trailed down our driveway to where I sat with our son and dog on a bench beside our garden. Thankfully, no one else was home, except our daughter’s parakeet, which had also survived. For about ten minutes, Dana and I sat outside, debating how long to wait before it was safe to go back in. Unsure, I called the local fire department, but all I got was the answering machine. So I called the business number for the local dispatch center.

After I explained our situation and the dispatcher made sure we were safe, he asked, “What’s your address?”

My heart fell. Nearly one year before, I’d embarrassed myself by calling the fire department when my carbon-monoxide detector had shrieked an alarm. They’d shown up in full gear only to discover that the detector had a low battery. So, after assuring me that it was better to be safe than sorry, they’d stood in the driveway chatting about the pig our youngest son had won at the local fair. Then they’d packed up.

This time was more serious, but I assured the dispatcher that the emergency was over and we were okay. Nevertheless, soon our driveway and half of our rural street was blocked with fire trucks. After my humiliation the year before, I just hoped these were different volunteers. I was hurrying past a truck to tell our neighbors that we were fine when a firefighter called down from a rig.

“How’s the pig?” he asked.

“It really was gas this time,” I said before fleeing down the drive.

Within half an hour, we were cleared to go inside, and the fire trucks were gone. Yes, I’m still embarrassed. Yes, I’m thinking of switching from gas to an electric stove. Yes, I’m grateful that the fumes apparently didn’t fill the upstairs room where our pets snooze away the day. But even more than that, I’m grateful for hardworking volunteers – including the smooth-cheeked kid who couldn’t help smiling from beneath his too-big helmet – who show up in droves to help their neighbors whether it is for a false alarm or a real one.