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

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 …

  1. jake Silver badge

    "Why the massive emergency services response?"

    Obvious answer: They was using up all kinds of cop equipment that they had hanging around the police officer's station.

    1. Tinslave_the_Barelegged Silver badge

      Re: "Why the massive emergency services response?"

      > They was using up all kinds of cop equipment that they had hanging around the police officer's station.

      Without the colour 8x10 glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, I won't believe it.

      1. Solo Owl

        Re: "Why the massive emergency services response?"

        You forgot to credit Arlo Guthrie....

        1. Jeffrey Nonken Silver badge

          Re: "Why the massive emergency services response?"

          "You forgot to credit Arlo Guthrie...."

          He didn't have to. Sixty three of us have done it for him.

    2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: "Why the massive emergency services response?"

      As a teen of the 70s, a resident of Massachusetts, and a proud graduate of UMass Amherst, I salute you, sir!

      // one big pile is better than two little piles

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: "Why the massive emergency services response?"

        Hey, I have UMass Amherst on my educational CV.

        What big pile? The library tower?

      2. Jeffrey Nonken Silver badge

        Re: "Why the massive emergency services response?"

        I have only the "teen in the 70s" part going for me, but yeah. Also at one employer we would play the record every Thanksgiving.

    3. FBee

      Re: "Why the massive emergency services response?"

      They also took 27 8X10 colour glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explainin' what each one was.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward



    But yes, have seen at least one UPS battery go bad like this, the battery essentially split open like the Hulk's shirt.

    Also had one E-bike battery do this as well during a charge attempt after not being used for a long time.

    "He is leaking!"

    1. Stevie Silver badge

      Re: Obligatory

      I've had many gel lead/acid batteries swell and split. No liquid ones though. My guess is that an internal short forms and heats the gel. A liquid battery "just" boils off the acid until it is gone, which is why you want unsealed ones.

      A colleague had a car battery explode when he did the wrench-short across the terminals thing while working on his car. Wrench welded itself to the terminals in sparrow's fart time, and the battery electrolyte boiled merrily until the casing burst/slagged (not sure which) and the various steamy vapours touched the white-hot wrench and ignited.

      He walked around with a haunted expression for years afterward.

      I also worked with someone some years back who had a mini like mine with the battery under the back seat. His son did some work on it in order to earn car-borrowing privs, and unfortunately left the spanner on one of the battery terminal tightening bolts before closing the seat. The spanner slowly worked its way across both terminals and provided much excitement a few days later as my friend drove to work. Luckily it didn't do the welding-itself-to-the-posts thing, how we never figured out, but the sparking, burning and driver-screaming-like-a-litlle-girl were still impressive, I was told.

      Years later this same guy lifted the engine out of the mini and discovered a socket wrench that had been sitting on the front sub-frame for years, also down to the kid.

      1. ds6 Bronze badge

        Re: Obligatory

        Good tales—but I must point out the usage of a sparrow's fart as a unit of measurement. That can't be an approved SI unit.

        1. albegadeep

          Re: Obligatory (Units of measurement)

          There is a long-standing tradition of unusual, but Vulture-approved, units of measurements:

          Oddly, there's no entries for time. "Sparrow's fart" might well be a good standard for short timespans - any suggestions for longer ones? Paint drying, bad speeches, Shelby light bulb?

          1. onefang Silver badge

            Re: Obligatory (Units of measurement)

            '"Sparrow's fart" might well be a good standard for short timespans - any suggestions for longer ones?'

            The amount of time it takes a government to make a good decision. Though that tends to a very long time, or never. Or if you want something shorter, frozen hells. So the average length of time taken for an average government to make a decision that makes the world a better place is 6.4 frozen hells, +/- 0.1.

  3. Dave K Silver badge

    Haven't had a battery split like that, however I've come across numerous situations where the battery has failed in a UPS, the site has been too lazy to do anything with it for months on end, then when we finally turn up to look at it, the ancient battery has started to swell - such that it's no longer possible to remove it from the UPS. Most sites aren't impressed at being told that the entire UPS now needs replacing due to their laziness...

    1. akoepke

      Why is there an incessant beeping noise coming from the room with the IT stuff in it? Who cares, it is still working.

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Back in the day...

        *ring* *ring*

        "Hi, Rich 11, it's X over at Y! Can you come and change the bulb on one of our servers, please? It's been flashing bright red all week and annoying all the people on this side of the office. Have you got a dimmer bulb that will flash more slowly?"

        Yes, pal, I could certainly identify a dimmer bulb in the vicinity.

        1. JimboSmith Silver badge

          Re: Back in the day...

          Years ago had a test rack in the office which we were using to evaluate some equipment. There was one piece of kit with an extremely nice blue light on it. People who passed the rack both technically minded and not commented on how much they liked the light. So when the MD of the firm came in to have a chat about the equipment the first question was where they sourced the light from (it was an LED but a very tasteful blue). He said he had no idea but would check and let us know. He was surprised that that was the first thing mentioned and not the functionality of their kit.

      2. Andytug

        That beeping is....

        at 7am trying to power up after an electrical inspection, the UPS trying to tell you that there's no mains power to the cabinet. Which if you ignore it results in all the servers gracefully powering off about 10 mins after startup, as the UPS tells them to as its battery is nearly empty........

        1. swm Bronze badge

          Re: That beeping is....

          I was working on my home computer and the UPS started beeping like there was no input power. But the lights in the room were working so I was puzzled until I found the UPS had blown a fuse on the input and my computers were running on battery.

      3. Bluebottle

        What alarms ?

        Our local shiny new multi-billion dollar teaching hospital had its first generator test under full load but low fuel levels meant that operating theatres lost power during operations (one surgeon was the head of the Australian Medical Association) and people got stuck in lifts.

        The inquiry found that maintenance staff had ignored the low fuel warning alarms for several days, and anyway the contractor hadn't told the hospital that the test was going to take place.

    2. Steve Cooper

      Had similar with a load of old racks in the comms room had 10+ year old APC units in the bottom of them where the battery had less capacity than a potato and were just being basically used as multiway plugs, with a building-wide UPS having been installed years ago. Cue a black building power down test. Turn it back on again and not a single 10+ year old UPS turned back on (how dare they). Cue running down to the local Robert Dyas/Maplin to buy a load of 4/6/10 way adapters and kettle leads.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    UPS' can be nasty

    we had of of the big boys (think 32u rack size) explode on us and chuck it's crap across the room.

    Luckily it was in a basement, but the clean up was not fun and took the site out for almost a week.

  5. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    You were lucky...

    duplicate - removed

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: You were lucky...

      duplicate reply - removed

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: You were lucky...

        Lucky, lucky, lucky.

        1. John G Imrie Silver badge

          Re: You were lucky...

          Hay Kiley is that you?

        2. Flakk Silver badge

          Re: You were lucky...

          Lucky, lucky, lucky.

          You don't know what a rotten borough is, do you?

          1. Stevie Silver badge

            Re: You were lucky...

            *I* do Flakk.

            E-beer for you.

          2. Midnight

            Re: You were lucky...

            Err... so... what is a rubber button?

  7. wyatt

    One of our engineers was gassed by a leaking UPS battery pack, had to be extracted from the comms room by the Fire Brigade and spent 6 weeks in hospital

    Brand new UPS in an Army vehicle only provided about 30 seconds of power during a generator change. On inspection, most the batteries weren't connected.

    UPS in my last job had a firmware issue which caused an outage for a few days. Was very strange when I noticed and went to check and everything was dark in the comms room.

    Army vehicles again, had some very awkward battery storage locations. Many a time there have been sparks flying when trying to maintain them. Never did get use to it, hate the things.

    1. Lee D Silver badge

      I do think people underestimate the risk of such batteries.

      Such, the PROBABILITY of such an accident is incredibly low, almost immeasurable if they are properly maintained.

      But the IMPACT of such a thing can be incredibly dangerous, more so than people think because they are so used to them "just working".

      The energy density, however, is very high... a small box can power lots of heavy servers for quite a while, considering. People really underestimate the power these things hold. In the normal course of things, if all safety measures are working, they are pretty benign. But if that energy is released all at once, plus the chemicals in use, etc. then they can be bombs.

      My dad tells a story from pre-H&S days, when he worked in a huge warehouse maintaining goods lorries. One day, they had a fork lift that was being retired on a site they were demolishing the next week anyway. They decided to have some fun with batteries... everything from shorting out a lorry battery with a spanner, to the same on the forklift battery (which was just multiple of the same in parallel).

      Generally speaking, the spanner turned red-hot, then white-hot and then shattered explosively into two from the lorry battery, observed from the comfort of a makeshift bunker, which is scary enough. So they moved on to the forklift. Apparently, the resulting explosion (conducted via a large metal spanner and a long piece of rope) completely obliterated the fork-lift, nearly deafened them, and sprayed battery acid on all four walls and the ceiling of a huge empty truck warehouse. It took them two days to wash it down, and they kept finding parts of the fork-lift in odd places, and lodged in the walls.

      Sure, that's the EXTREME end, but that's just ordinary lead acid batteries in tandem. The lorry battery thing is scary enough, that it can melt/bend/explode a fitter's spanner in seconds. That kind of power discharging into, say, water, metal shelving, etc. is a scary thought.

      I've always been wary of large batteries because of such stories, I've never had trouble myself but I don't want to have. The nearest I got was a Macbook with a battery that bulged so much that it destroyed the casing and kept visibly expanding once released. We dropped it into an empty wheelie bin a long way from anything and it ended up going to the skip months later when it had stabilised and calcified and leaked all over the inside of the bin (it was suggested to pour water on it, but that was hastily rebutted, being lithium).

      Especially UPS batteries - the APC one I have had a large battery tray that one man can barely lift and - taking it apart to look at the individual battery modules (which is just a bunch of RPC6's wired together to give 48V and more capacity), there is no fuse on the battery itself. The fuse is in the cable on the UPS side that it connects to, not the battery. So when changing those things out, it's quite possible that you could drop something into the casing (e.g. a screwdriver) and short that battery out with no safeties.

      Anything with energy density like that is a dangerous thing. I've seen 9v NiMH batteries explode when charging and cover a primary school classroom in acid (fortunately, no children in the room at that point). I've shorted out NiCd AA batteries using a basic science kit (intended for alkaline) as a kid and literally set the battery casing and wires on fire in seconds. Sure, you have to do something stupid, but it's relatively easy to do something stupid by accident. And then you're into "fire hazard" as a minimum and, with large lead-acids, potential bangs that can fire metal shards around a room.

      1. Jonathon Green

        Large batteries are Not To Be Taken Lightly. I have a very large spanner which looks like an animal took a bite out of it to remind me of this and that was just a diddy motorcycle battery.

        I try not to think about this too much when I’m barrelling down the A120 at 85MPH on top of 30kwh of Lithium batteries, but I suppose in energy density (and ease of ignition) terms it’s probably less of an issue than half-a-tank[1] of petrol...

        [1] To give plenty of space for a nice juicy mixture of air and petrol vapour.

        1. Lee D Silver badge

          Generally petrol won't explode entirely in a single few seconds. Though you can get a bang, it has to be aerated and dispersed to make a single fireball.

          In general, it will burn fiercely and slowly for several minutes with maybe a bang every now and then. Sure, your car will be totally burnt but generally you have time to get out.

          A battery, especially Li-Po etc., can disperse its entire energy and hit runaway temperatures in seconds. There are videos of laptop batteries catching fire and going bang on people's laps - you'd think that would be the kind of thing you could feel coming. And a guy was just killed by a vape thing exploding:

          Yes, the energy density of both is high, and petrol is nearly twice as much (I believe), but it's how it burns. You need something catastrophic to set fire to your fuel lines, and even worse to the tank. But you just need a stray bit of metal in the wrong place, or for some kind of contact with the chassis, with a battery.

          Plus, lead-acids generally release hydrogen when charging, and lithiums can't contact water, which doesn't help.

          P.S. So many people don't follow the right procedure for jump-starting a car... sure, they get away with it an awful lot. One day they won't.

        2. Tinslave_the_Barelegged Silver badge

          > Large batteries are Not To Be Taken Lightly.

          We knew a guy in the village who worked for a big battery company. We called him Barry Nine-fingered.... (In this case, a huge glass battery bank for a lighthouse. Batteries were taken up first, then the acid. Barry made a teensy tiny little mistake connecting them up.)

          Oddly, my father had a similar experience, welding his wedding ring onto his skin when using a spanner long enough to short the terminals on a battery bank. So when I work on our off-grid power supply, over 1000AHrs at 24v, I tend to be rather cautious, using short, rubber-clad spanners, and lots of adrenalin.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            automotive batteries

            " spanner long enough to short the terminals on a battery bank"

            Another area to beware of is the starter lead on ca. 1980 GM full size sedans (Regal, Cutlass Supreme, etc.). If you're fishing a new wire down to the starter while building a race car, there's a wedding ring sized gap between the starter stud and a nice big ground (exhaust pipe, IIRC). Somehow I avoided going arcy sparky.

            1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

              Re: automotive batteries


              If you're fishing a new wire down to the starter while building a race car, there's a wedding ring sized gap between the starter...

              The moral of this story is that pursuing such a hobby is not always compatible with being married

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          " barrelling down the A120 at 85MPH"

          Are you sure about that? Only asking, because you just admitted on a public forum that you were travelling fast enough to get a driving ban....

          1. Stratman

            AC wrote "you've just confessed to a heinous crime"

            With an uncalibrated uncertified speedometer...

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            " barrelling down the A120 at 85MPH"

            Are you sure about that? Only asking, because you just admitted on a public forum that you were travelling fast enough to get a driving ban....

            if he was late picking the missus up from Stansted, then I would be doing a little more than 85,,, risk driving ban or the wrath of the missus pissed off at standing waiting for collection after a long flight?

            1. DougS Silver badge

              Barreling down the A120

              Dunno about the A120, but last time I was in the UK I was regularly exceeding 90 in the right lane on various M roads - basically just matching the lane's speed of traffic. I don't see what the big deal is with someone admitting to it, given that it isn't at all an uncommon speed of travel.

              If the A120 is one of those winding country roads with two lanes barely as wide as 1 1/2 lanes would be in the US, then I'd agree that's a little crazy...

          3. IanRS

            It was obviously a mis-typed KMPH, of course!

          4. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

            "barrelling down the A120 at 85MPH"

            This will get around the issue of admitting a traffic offense in that statement...

            "Bombing along the Queen's Highway"

            ...but may still attract undue attention for other reasons

          5. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

            Assuming the A120 is a national speed limit dual carriageway, 85 isn't enough for a driving ban. I drive at 95 on motorways regularly, safely below the cut-off for a driving ban.

      2. THMONSTER


        Also have had experience of truck and forklift batteries exploding (forklift was a diesel model so not too bad, just a large 12v) in my days as a truck mechanic before I ended up slumped behind a keyboard and wall of monitors.

        They certainly do go with quite a bang, one of the truck batteries went whilst jump starting it with another truck and caused a gas cloud to pour from the battery in question.

        Other activities were far more dangerous at that job though, spare time and high pressure air from the compressor makes for crazy dangerous inventions.

        Half inch thick bolts launched hundreds of yards were a regular occurrence!

        The devil makes work for idle hands!

        1. Ben Tasker Silver badge

          Re: Boom!

          > Other activities were far more dangerous at that job though

          If you want to see something equally scary, try googling for how to de-sulphate a lead acid battery.

          I guarantee you'll find more than a few people recommending that you do the following

          - Put the battery on a bench

          - Get your arc welder and clamp the cathode onto the positive terminal

          - Turn the welder on

          - Repeatedly tap the anode against the negative terminal

          The theory being that the (high) charge going through should shake the suplhate back off the plates.

          Of course, that'll lead to a release of hydrogen, and it's not as if the primary fucking task of an arc welder is to create an arc/spark hot enough to melt metal (let alone ignite hydrogen)....

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Boom!

            To quote Mark Watney: "in the history of humanity, nothing bad has ever happened from lighting hydrogen on fire"

          2. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

            Re: Boom!

            I recently googled how to rescue a set of NI-CD drill battery and saw a lot of people suggesting a similar thing. I thought "that sounds like a good plan with no danger of fiery death".

        2. dmacleo

          Re: Boom!

          big bang very quickly with 4 6volts wired series and someone makes one wire mistake.

          was supposed to be 2 "banks" of 2 6volts in series and guy decided to hook cable from another truck across last 2 terminals instead of the truck (ironically fire truck) + / - leads.

          luckily we had MANY fire extinguishers and axes that would cut cable very handy LOL

        3. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: Boom!

          Indeed... very much will they go bang and with many times disastrous results. Back in the day, I did some drag racing. I wasn't there one particular Sunday but heard this from a friend who was. Many of the guys would put 4 12V batteries in the truck wired in parallel. What this did was give them "legal" ballast and also high amps for starting high compression engines. Well, apparently one lad who knew it all had a starting problem. Took his batteries out and put them on a charger. When he put them back, he was connecting them as he installed them while having a beer (stupid thing to do in the pits, IMO, but I digress). The last batter was set into place backwards (reversed). From what I heard the "boom" as he connected the last cable was loud and the guy spent several months in the hospital from burns. Luckily no one else was hurt but there was shrapnel in the cars on either side of his in the pit area. The only thing we could think of is that he had the power turned on in the cockpit while testing and forgot to turn it off before working on the batteries.

          Lesson.. do fool around with batteries unless you can give the job your full attention.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Boom!

            "Lesson.. do fool around with batteries unless you can give the job your full attention."

            Is part of the lesson an exercise for the reader in where to correctly place the missing "not"?

            1. Mark 85 Silver badge

              Re: Boom!

              I and my fat fingers, blew it.... should read:

              Lesson.. do NOT fool around with batteries unless you can give the job your full attention.

              1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                Re: Boom!

                "I and my fat fingers, blew it.... should read:"

                LOL, I do it all the time. The brain works faster than the fingers :-)

      3. ma1010 Silver badge

        Batteries can definitely do strange things

        A long time ago, I was working on a car and noticed a strange hissing sound after the engine started. After less than a minute I looked under the car and saw about a quart of oil on the ground, and more coming. Shut engine off and looked for problem. Earlier, I'd been using a screwdriver on the starter relay to "bump" the engine over, and gotten the screwdriver (sitting on the positive terminal on the relay) a little too close to the oil filter and arc welded a hole in it.

        Recently, my HTC phone looked strange. It looked like the screen was bulging up in the middle a little. In a matter of days, it bulged up about 5mm in the center, but not at the ends, so the screen was actually bent. Took it in for repair, and it was the battery swelling up that caused all the problems. New battery, and it's all sorted.

        1. Simon Sharwood, Reg APAC Editor (Written by Reg staff)

          Re: Batteries can definitely do strange things

          Did the screen survive?

      4. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

        "Especially UPS batteries - the APC one I have had a large battery tray that one man can barely lift and - taking it apart to look at the individual battery modules (which is just a bunch of RPC6's wired together to give 48V and more capacity), there is no fuse on the battery itself."

        Most APC battery packs do have fuses inside them. 96V RBC44 packs certainly have them. 24V packs like RBC55. 48V pack RBC43 does too.

    2. Chris King Silver badge

      "One of our engineers was gassed by a leaking UPS battery pack, had to be extracted from the comms room by the Fire Brigade and spent 6 weeks in hospital"

      I'm guessing hydrogen sulphide, that's a common nasty you get from leaking lead-acid batteries. Nasty stuff.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Haz mat site

      I had a colleague that had something similar happen. This company had used regular car batteries in their UPS room. I refused to go in because of the smell. Procedure is you go in and then open up the roll up doors. One coworker was injured when a battery exploded and was hot with acid. Do to his injuries he spent to much time in the room and inhaled some nasty stuff . The fire dept was pissed because they thought it was just a regular work place injury and not told about the haz mat chemicals. That triggered a surprise inspection but a half dozen gov groups

  8. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    You were lucky...

    ...Why the massive emergency services response?

    “It seems that when we had reported the battery we used words like ‘chemical’ and ‘bomb’,” Len confessed...

    If you had made the same report today you would have had a trigger-happy anti-terrorist team beating down your door, and a good chance of getting shot if you were holding a power screwdriver at the time...

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: You were lucky...

      More likely, you'd get ticketed for making an unnecessary call to the emergency number. 999/911/112 etc. is usually reserved for "urgent assistance". Life and death situations, not cat-up-a-tree or leaky old batteries that are obviously not in any immediate danger of hurting someone.

      Around these parts, lead-acid batteries can be dropped off at any number of hazardous waste disposal sites, usually with no fee. Transportation is not illegal; its a DIY thing.

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: You were lucky...

        You can transport a LA battery - but one that is clearly overheating and doing *something* bad internally...

        I'd phone the local fire department for advice, but I might find their 'non 999 number' unless I was really concerned about the battery (like if it was LiIon and I had just googled LiIon battery hot)

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: You were lucky...

          It wasn't overheating at the time of the story, it had overheated prior to our heroes physically moving it from the client site to their home base. It was clearly not an immediate danger to life or property, and as such not worth bothering the emergency folks over.

      2. Lee D Silver badge

        Re: You were lucky...

        You're not wasting time if you genuinely think it could hurt people.

        If you've never seen a Li-ion or lead acid properly go up in flame or go bang, you might reconsider quite how likely they are to hurt people.

        See my stories above.

      3. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

        Re: You were lucky...

        ...making an unnecessary call to the emergency number. 999/911/112 etc....

        There's a new number, haven't you heard?

        0118 999 881 999 119 725 3

  9. macjules Silver badge

    When it is time to scrap.

    My golden rule for scrapping UPS units has always been. if product support has ended and parts are not easily available, the UPS requires too much maintenance or it fails its function - i.e. supporting the entire IT load at the required redundancy and runtime levels.

    Never had a battery fail but I have had one run down to critical discharge when my equivalent PFY managed to hit the one button marked "do NOT touch" and shut a server rack. After that fiasco I got a budget for deep-cycle marine batteries to replace the entire array.

  10. defiler Silver badge

    We shut down central Edinburgh with a fridge

    Strange smell coming from the Chairman's office, and since IT covers everything that's not the core business I was asked if I knew what it was. Popped in, had a sniff. Smelled like ammonia, so we phoned the fire brigade. Not a 999 call or anything like that, and I was in the room when the call was made, so I know that our end of the call sounded like:

    "Hi, we're looking for some advice on who to call about this. We have a strange chemical smell in one of our offices - smells a bit like ammonia. No, nobody in there just now. Okay - we'll see you when you get here." They said they'd send someone over to take a look.

    That someone was 4 fire engines, a fire control unit, two police cars, four police bikes, a police serious incident unit, two ambulances and an ambulance control unit. Shut down Charlotte Square for over an hour and made the papers. I was one of two "treated at the scene", which meant I got a seat in the back of the ambulance while everyone else had to stand outside.

    The firemen were absolutely fuming that we hadn't evacuated. We'd just expected someone to come round in a car... Turns out the chariman's mini-fridge in his office had leaked.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: We shut down central Edinburgh with a fridge

      Ammonia in a mini fridge? How old was it? I didn't think mini-fridges were even thought of when the last house-hold unit using ammonia was manufactured ...

      1. defiler Silver badge

        Re: We shut down central Edinburgh with a fridge

        Ammonia in a mini fridge? How old was it?

        Dunno, to be honest. I started there in 2001, and that office didn't change prior to... Well, the company closing I think. I'd previously been involved in quoting to move that company into that office in 2000, so I imaging the fridge was at least that old.

        But looking around, it looks like ammonia-charged fridges were still being sold new during that time.

      2. Stuart Halliday

        Re: We shut down central Edinburgh with a fridge

        Smelled a little like Ammonia. Doesn't mean it was.

        If it's in an office then there should be a health & safety certificate listing what chemicals are in the Fridge.

        1. Chloe Cresswell

          Re: We shut down central Edinburgh with a fridge

          It's still used in fridges.

          There are 2 main kinds of fridge: Compressor and Heat Exchanger.

          Domestic fridges are compressor based, but heat exchanger ones are still made. Mostly for camping. All you need is heat to make them work due to the way the refrigerant works. Ammonia works well at this.

          You add heat on one side from a gas flame, or a 240V heater, or a 12V heater, and bingo, fridge works.

          No real moving parts, so ideal for a small fridge.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: We shut down central Edinburgh with a fridge

            Still used in refrigeration, yes. Not, however, used in domestic refrigerators. And hasn't been since the 1930s, or thereabouts.

            1. defiler Silver badge

              Re: We shut down central Edinburgh with a fridge

              Still used in refrigeration, yes. Not, however, used in domestic refrigerators.

              Well, I can't say for certain that it was ammonia. As I say, it smelled like ammonia (having tinkered with such at high school), but I didn't keep my pocket gas chromatograph handy! :)

              Fire brigade didn't say what it was other than throwing the fridge out the door and pointing angrily at it as if it was us who'd chosen to waste everyone's time...

      3. fobobob

        Re: We shut down central Edinburgh with a fridge

        I believe I've seen them in RVs before, but this is something of a childhood recollection. Could be wrong, but it seems like a likely place for them to have initially appeared.

    2. DuchessofDukeStreet

      Re: We shut down central Edinburgh with a fridge

      Charlotte Square as in where the First Minister lives? Possible report of a chemical incident a few buildings away? Sounds as though you got off lightly with the response level. :-) I've seen the same quantity for a fire in a nearby block of flats - but as it was my flat that had the flames coming out of it, I was just grateful.

      (icon for the picture, not the meaning)

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: We shut down central Edinburgh with a fridge

        "Charlotte Square as in where the First Minister lives? Possible report of a chemical incident a few buildings away? Sounds as though you got off lightly with the response level. :-) "

        Yes, if that is the same Charlotte Sq., possibly the fire brigade call handler treated it as non-urgent as per the authors comments on how the call was logged, but by the time the address was pasted into the incident response system, all hell probably broke loose as the security status of the location was suddenly highlighted with flashing lights and sirens on the screen and what was something minor turned into a major incident "just in case"

        1. defiler Silver badge

          Re: We shut down central Edinburgh with a fridge

          Yes, if that is the same Charlotte Sq.

          Yep. Same one.

          It's EH2. If they get a report of even a small fire then it's a 4-5 engine job because fire spreads so quickly in these old buildings with wooden floors.

          Aye, Wee Eck was about 1/4 of the way round the square. Maybe it was running up to budget meeting time...

          1. onefang Silver badge

            Re: We shut down central Edinburgh with a fridge

            Not just a 'fridge, a small one. Well done!

            Have a beer, but don't keep it in a leaky 'fridge.

    3. kain preacher Silver badge

      Re: We shut down central Edinburgh with a fridge

      I can understand why they were pissed. An i undefined chemical leak. if it was ammonia that is nasty if inhaled .

    4. Stratman

      Re: We shut down central Edinburgh with a fridge

      The firemen were absolutely fuming

      Very good

  11. JakeMS


    Welp, everything has a downside, UPS's are great when they're stable and working.

    But when unstable or faulty can be downright dangerous.

    It's always recommended to have one though to protect your equipment. It's only a minor issue if it explodes and burns your house/office down.

    Sadly UPS explosions are exceptionally rare.

    But we're talking batteries here, the battery in your car can do the same thing.

    Just keep a check on your batteries and you'll be fine. If a bettery begins or has failed replace ASAP.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Well

      Sadly UPS explosions are exceptionally rare.

      I feel your disappointment.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Well

        Sadly UPS explosions are exceptionally rare.

        FedEx, on the other hand, explode all the time.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Well

          And as for TNT...

    2. ICPurvis47

      Re: Well

      I had a car battery explode - on my first date with the lady who eventually became my wife. Took her to Santa Pod Dragway, and on the return trip the battery started smoking, so I stopped the car and opened the bonnet, to see jets of smoke squirting out from where the plastic had melted around the terminal posts. Quickly disconnected and removed the battery, but luckily a passing fellow drag racing enthusiast stopped to help. Used his battery to start the car and raised the idle speed so that the alternator kept it alive on the drive back. Had to drop GF outside her parents' house and scoot back home as I couldn't stop the engine or it would have needed another battery to start it again.

  12. Stuart Halliday

    OK, why did this so called professional IT company not have the UPS in a standard regular test mode so at least the customer knew that the battery was needing replaced.

    They should have had a email from the UPS that it was dead.

    They also need to read up about lead acid batteries safety. No need to call the emergency services.

    1. DuchessofDukeStreet

      Reading the article, the customer wasn't a contract customer, just someone who called on their nearby IT support business on an as and when task based approach, and didn't have any ongoing internal or external support.

      Of course after this, they may well have become a permanent customer...

    2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Free UPS!

      The (excellent) IT crowd at my small company have, on several occasions, opted to rid themselves (in a responsible way, of course) of UPS units with expired batteries, rather than pay to have them replaced. Turns out, the cost of a new UPS is about the same as that of a service call for someone to professionally replace the batteries and recycle the old ones. Seems odd, but that's what they tell me.

      Anyway, I generously offered to take a couple of older units off their hands. For the price of a few new batteries (about US$30 each), I have several working UPS units at home. The old batteries go to the recycler, and the new ones last about 4 or 5 years.

      Why, yes, I am an engineer...and a cheap one at that. My home network switch is also a castoff 10/100 from the same generous folks.

      // waste not, want not

      1. Korev Silver badge

        Re: Free UPS!

        Our computational chemists used to have UPS on their workstations (I can't remember many power outages though), when the batteries died I had to get them replaced. They were almost as expensive as buying new UPS units...

      2. 9Rune5

        Re: Free UPS!

        "and a cheap one at that. My home network switch is also a castoff 10/100 from the same generous folks."

        I consider myself cheap as well, but last year I bought a fanless managed 24p gigabit switch for roughly £100. I could have taken a few switches off the hands of my employer's IT guys, but when I realized how cheap switches are these days and that the old switches weren't fanless, I decided against it.

        1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

          Re: Free UPS!

          I have discovered, living on a hill, that the currents induced in CATx cable by nearby lightning strikes (not direct hits, but close enough that you hear "click/BOOM!"), will destroy the cheaper, consumer-grade switches (and garage door openers).

          Autopsy of the deceased immediately shows why: the connectors are directly wired to the switch IC, with no transformers or surge suppressors. The commercial gear is built more robustly. I've been through a number of Netgear, Linksys, 3Com OfficeConnect, etc consumer/SOHO grade switches, but the HP Procurve seems to be holding up well. Plus, it was free...(and with something like 75 ports, I can afford to lose a few!)

          1. Richard 12 Silver badge

            Re: Free UPS!

            There are isolation transformers because that's part of the Ethernet standard.

            In smaller kit the transformer is often embedded inside the RJ45 socket.

            Also, a lot of these isolation transformers are in a package that looks like a bulky chip.

  13. dubious

    upsea are evil

    Once upon a time in Bahrain yours truely was helping service a large UPS. This included replacing the 4 large shelves of large batteries while the DC was fed through the much smaller backup UPS.

    We were just 3/4 of the way through when there was a national power outage. The backup UPS kept the critical systems up, but it would only hold for 15 mins.

    Picture 3 guys in close proximity desperately attempting to connect up the last load of huge 48V batteries, on earthed metal shelves, in a tight space, with no AC, no air circulation, a weak emergency light, and +40C outside air temperature. Humid as hell, and with every surface at nice cool DC temperature, heavy condensation was everywhere. On us, running down the walls, and... on the rubber-coated handles of our electrical spanners...

    So many shocks.

    So many.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: upsea are evil

      messing around with what was likely 480 VDC in the dark = you're lucky if all you got was a painful shock. Murphy's law pretty much dictates a power outage will happen while you're servicing the UPS, so have a redundant plan in place. Options include:

      * rent a portable genset and run off of that during the transition.

      * power down less-critical systems (example: do you really need ALL of your DNS and AD to survive? Can you live an hour without the WSUS server? Do you *need* backup servers running during the changeover? We like to think that all IT systems are massively critical, but in reality we can survive short durations without some things, especially if it prevents long outages)

      A rushed battery swap could easily have resulted in a much longer downtime due to the resulting fire/explosion/investigation into dead bodies/etc.

  14. JJKing Bronze badge

    It's aliiiiiive.

    Got a call from one of my schools complaining that the Server was squealing so they were my next call. Turned out the noise was coming from the UPS. When I eventually figured out how to open the damn thing I found one of the 12v 6Ah batteries had split open and has zero liquid contents in it. Don't know where the stuff went but there wasn't a single stain on the chassis of the UPS. Eventually got the ok to purchase 4 new batteries and it worked fine for the next 6 or so years.

    The noise was surreal. It sounded like it was in pain.

  15. Ochib

    Relevent XKCD

  16. JeffyPoooh Silver badge

    A wise person once wrote...

    You’re concerned about your family’s safety. So you get a guard dog. The dog costs a fortune. It immediately poops on the floor. Then it chews off the entire left side of your Bang and Olufson. It bites the postman’s fingers. It then sleeps through an actual burglary. And finally it eats one of your children.

    This is the UPS experience: If they’re not preoccupied with smoldering their lead acid batteries, then they’re busy buzzing and arcing. Then they blow an internal fuse on the output, and your Great American Novel is suddenly lost, again, for the third time. Then there’s an actually power failure (Yay!), so they turn on their patented 387 volt offset square wave, and your PC is instantly corrupted. Meanwhile battery acid squirts out onto the ceiling, again. Then, while you’re out trying to buy a replacement PC, the UPS catches fire and burns your house down.

    I’d happily pay $800 to not have one.

    1. Steve Cooper

      Re: A wise person once wrote...

      I don't 'live in the sticks' (Rayleigh, Essex) but have a power cut probably on average once a month, lasting for a second up to an hour - my couple of UPSes keep my kit running happily each and every time.

      I love UPSes, especially the danger element. If I ever get a power cut at night I'll pop a spanner across the 48V battery pack and sit back and watch my new MAN TORCH light up.

  17. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge

    Bypass and Defeat

    I had a rack of beautiful new routers and switches set up in the server room I had recently reworked all the wiring for. One of my coworkers brought in a contractor for some additional wiring work going to some of his systems. The switches were plugged into several different UPS-powered outlets through a set of surge suppressors that were located behind the rack, under the raised floor. Redundant power supplies? Check! Surge suppressors? Check! Multiple power outlets in use? Check! UPS for everything? Check! Idiot who pulled up the floor and danced along the power strips turning everything off? Check! Check! Check!

    The contractor got walked out of the building. My coworker got a reprimand for letting this guy loose unsupervised. I got to enjoy having our department head watch over my shoulder while I reconfigured the kit which had lost some of its settings as a result of the power outage.

  18. Stevie Silver badge


    I have to say I'm a bit puzzled by the scaredy-cat reaction to the UPS situation and lack of prep.

    Knowing there were lead acid batteries involved, why was this not opened up OUTSIDE? The biggest danger would have been the venting of chlorine and possibly flammable hydrogen, which although it goes bang is loud and scary rather than dangerous in the amounts a battery can usually put out into a leaky casing like a UPS (not hermetically sealed usually - mask me how I know this), but you don't want either happening inside.

    Knowing there were lead acid batteries involved, why no large pack of Baking Soda on hand? Useful for spills and preventing splashes turning into burns. Also good for stopping spilt acid from being acid. And quenching fires too.

    Knowing there were corrosive chemicals involved, why no bucket of water for emergency immersive washing? Yes, water can make things worse (like with lion battery mishaps) but with lead acid jobs large amounts of water are a skin's best friend. Also good four pouring on acid spills to take the bite out of 'em. Also to stop the acid splashes from taking the paint off the director's Jag.

    And most of all, why no big metal box for dropping the whole thing in until it stopped fizzing, sparking and doing it's worst? Outside this would simply be a possible cause of a phone call from the neighbors to the police/fire brigade if it all went smoky and blazey, but the important thing is it would be outside, not in the office basement.

    Reminds me of the time a neighbour called the fire brigade to tell them his entertainment centre (a 1970s compact hifi thingy) was smoking. They arrived in Dennis, their fire engine, and the neighbour said "it's okay, I just unplugged it and it stopped smoking."

    Two firemen, bit between their teeth and adrenaline-crazed from the drive over from the fire station elbowed him out of the way, grabbed the entertainment centre, carried it out onto the front lawn and chopped it to matchwood with their shiny axes to the amusement of onlookers.

    Don't call the fire brigade if you don't mean it. They take their work seriously and love to chop stuff to bits. I mean, who wouldn't? I would if I were a fireman. It's half the fun and most of the point.

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      Don't call the fire brigade if you don't mean it. They take their work seriously and love to chop stuff to bits.

      Makes a change to see a story in The Register that mentions the Fire Service, but no mention of male appendages that require extricating

      1. onefang Silver badge

        Re: Bah!

        "Makes a change to see a story in The Register that mentions the Fire Service, but no mention of male appendages that require extricating"

        Why, is your fruit and nutcase stuck in something?

      2. Stevie Silver badge

        Re:no mention of male appendages


  19. Andy Taylor

    Back in the early 80s, we went on a family holiday to the Channel Islands.

    One day, on a beach on Herm island, we met another family with a little girl called Emily.

    Important plot point: Emily had cerebral palsy. Now, being the early 80s and my parents being the type of people who would make friends with random strangers, we stayed in touch.

    Back home, my father was thinking about Emily and (I think) her problems operating switches and came up with an idea - he would design a torch that could be switched on without having to operate the switch.

    The solution was simple - take 1 classic Ever Ready torch, glue a base to the bottom that would allow it to stand upright and fit a mercury switch - the result being a torch that could sit on a bedside table in the off position and be turned on simply by turning it to point downwards. Perfect for reading in bed and perfect for Emily to operate

    Having perfected his design, my father packed the torch up to send to Emily's family. To prevent the torch from coming on whilst in the post, he removed the 2 C size batteries from the torch and taped them to the outside.

    He then posted the torch with an explanatory letter, but crucially didn't give them any advance warning.

    Emily's mother wasn't expecting a parcel. Emily's mother wasn't expecting to see batteries taped to an unknown object, so Emily's mother called the police.

    Police turned up, one of them noticed the letter sticking out of the parcel, so bravely pulled it out as carefully as he could. Luckily for Emily, the package wasn't blown to pieces and she reportedly loved the torch.

    1. Andy Taylor

      I've just remembered the rest of this story - having read the letter and realised that the package did *not* contain a bomb, the police helped fit the batteries into the torch before they left. :)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A little off topic, but...

      Way back in around the mid 90's, I and an electrical engineer friend were invited to a Halloween party. My friend Al is Italian, is dark complected, has dark curly hair and a large beard. He looks scarily like a certain deceased terrorist leader.

      We had the idea to make a costume for him. We took plastic pipe and cut a bunch of it up into about 8-10 inch lengths. We wrapped it in red wax paper, stuck wires into each end, and wrapped the ends in black electrical tape. We then bundled these in groups of 5 or 6 pieces with more black electrical tape. We made about 4 bundles. We taped these to his chest along with some battery packs and connected all of the loose wires to a couple of scrap PCBs. He had a button for his hand with a bundle of wires connecting it to one of the PCBs. When he would press the button, an bunch of LEDs would start blinking in sequence. Since it was built by an IT guy and an electrical engineer, is was very convincing. Not to brag, but it was better than a lot of movie props.

      The best part was while on the way to the party we stopped by a convenience store to buy some booze. We both get out and start towards the door when I spot the police car parked in front of the store. I show Al the police car and tell him "you better wait in the car..." He quickly zips up his jacket, and dives into the car.

      Can you only imagine what would happen if we did this now?

      I have a picture of him around somewhere. I give him a little blood pressure spike these days when I joke about posting it in the internet.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: A little off topic, but...

        "red wax paper" ... That would be road flairs. Dynamite is yellow.

      2. Simon Sharwood, Reg APAC Editor (Written by Reg staff)

        Re: A little off topic, but...

        Or imagine how you'd go if you dressed up as Osama Bin Laden and got into the secure area at the APEC Summit attended by the presidents of everywhere.

        Cos it happened.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Many moons ago went in with a colleague for the first support visit on a contract we had just taken on. General health check as their Dell GX270s kept rebooting (lovely leaky capacitors on every board), and to swap the battery on an APC UPS. Colleague volunteered to do the UPS. Bulging battery wouldnt move, so he was doing allsorts of pulling and pushing on it.

    A few minutes later an expletive was heard, and i turn to see him clutching his hand, big cut on it from an exposed bit of metal in the battery housing. He popped through to their bathroom to clean it up, as their staff got out the accident book and a plaster from the first aid kit. About 5 minutes later as i check another Dell the office manager asked if i thought my colleague was ok. Went to check on him to find him sitting on the floor tiles, pale as a ghost, bloody paper towels filling the bin. Through to the office,'Sorry, just taking him to the hospital, back in 10 minutes'. Dropped him at A&E, went back, finished the job, then back to collect him and take him back to our office to show off his war wound.

    Interestingly a few months later we were both taking an exam, both passed, but the recommendations after it for him were to be wary around working with electrical equipment as he struggled on those questions.

  21. Jake Maverick

    almost sounds like some dumb ass AI was listening in on the phone call....!

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re. dumb ass AI

    Mind out, lesser people have been made to disappear for criticizing Skynet.

    Mine's the one with the "Mimetic Polyalloy" in the back pocket.

  23. Mike Friedman

    Um.....guys.... DO NOT take batteries like this to “the dump.”

    LEAD IS POISONOUS. It should never be put in a landfill! All lead acid batteries should be recycled.

    1. defiler Silver badge

      The Dump

      To be fair, we call it The Tip around here. It's actually a site with big containers for sorting different types of waste into, including small electrical items, TVs, batteries, glass, wood, metal etc etc. Only a couple of the containers are actually for landfill, which is a separate location.

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