Tech support made the news after bomb squad and police showed up to 'defuse' leaky UPS

Do say: 'I need safe disposal advice'. Don't say 'These chemicals could blow!"

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On-Call By golly it’s Friday again! Which means a spot of R&R isn’t far off, once we get through On-Call, The Register’s weekly column recounting readers’ tales of terrible times in tech support.

This week meet “Len” who told us he works “for a small but long-established IT company” n a major Scottish city.

“We do a range of work from off the street customers to home visits and support contracts for local business,” he explained.

One fine day a couple of years ago one of those business customers called. Len told us that the customer wasn’t on a contract, so wouldn’t usually get priority service. But the customer was most insistent that Len’s firm send someone, ASAP, because their uninterruptible power supply had been, well, interrupted.

Len and his workmates figured it was probably going to be a turn-it-on-and-off-again or plug-it-in-properly job, so as the client was just up the road bumped the job up the queue and popped in for a visit.

“This unit was an older APC model with a lead-acid battery around the size of 2 large car batteries,” Len told On-Call. “So myself and a colleague get one end each and took it back to the workshop.”

“The first thing we did was pop the front off to see if the battery is okay.”

And it wasn’t. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

“The outer case of the battery was starting to melt and the smell was awful, like hair dye,” Len told us.

He quickly surmised that he needed advice about the chemicals inside, so called the local emergency switchboard and asked to speak to the fire department in the hope that they’d either come to take it away or explain how to handle the bleeding battery.

Ten minutes later, Len told us “a bomb disposal truck, two fire engines, three police cars and an ambulance” had pulled up outside his office, blocking traffic down the rather busy road outside

“Traffic was re-directed for half an hour, our shop and the two either side as well as the block of flats above were evacuated and it even made the local news that evening,” Len told us.

Why the massive emergency services response?

Cartoon fire truck

Fixing a printer ended with a dozen fire engines in the car park


“It seems that when we had reported the battery we used words like ‘chemical’ and ‘bomb’,” Len confessed to On-Call “Basically we said the battery could explode like a bomb as it was so hot and was a chemical hazard due to acid.”

None of which was untrue, but together it ticked a lot of boxes at the emergency services call centre!

“After around an hour a fire marshal came over and declared the battery to be OK as there was no runaway chemical reaction,” Len said. And then all of the cops, bomb squad and ambulance staff packed up and left.

And they didn't even take the battery, which Len told us he quietly took to the local dump a couple of days later

Len told us his company’s policy is now to let customers deal with faulty UPS units by themselves!

Have your tech support efforts turned into an emergency? If so, write to On-Call with your story so we can run it here on some future Friday. ®

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