False Alarm on 13th Street

Fire trucks up and down 13th St.There was a false fire alarm in the condo building across the street from us tonight. The street was swarmed with a half dozen or more fire trucks, including a ladder truck on the street.

The training and dedication of the firefighters are evident in the smoothly-executed strategy they employ in preparation for fighting a high-rise fire in an urban setting: The engines are stationed up and down the street, in places strategically chosen for their proximity to hydrants. In some cases, the truck drops off the end of a hose at a hydrant, and then barrels down the street with it unreeling behind it like a spool of thread wildly unwinding on a sewing machine, quickly laying the hose in the direction of the potential conflagration.

Firefighters spill out of the stopping trucks, dressed in the iconic garb: sooty yellow raincoats, the uniquely-shaped helmets, and backs hunched over from the weight of the oxygen tanks they carry. Almost immediately they enter the building to seek out the source of the alarm, fire or otherwise.

To ensure good coverage and a speedy response with water, no matter what part of the building might be burning, it is literally surrounded with engines - to the extent possible. A truck sits in the alley, covering the flank.

There is a ladder truck stationed in the street, and soon the whining of hydraulics signals the cherry picker’s arduous ascent to the top of the building. It finally stops after several minutes when it reaches the roof line, paused in seemingly tremulous mid-air anticipation, waiting for a signal for men to begin moving up the ladder and onto the roof of the building to work their way down.

[inline:2=A biker riding past the trucks.;float:right]It doesn’t come: There is no smoke; there are no shouts and screams; no crowds are streaming from the lobby entrance. The crowd that has inevitably gathered - the entire street - waits quietly, watching, casting occasional glances at one another, almost guiltily embarrassed at gaping.

And then the firefighters emerge from the building. The whine of hydraulics begins again, but this time the ladder descends past the windows. Hoses are reeled in, trucks pull away, and the entire scene is folded up and removed as smoothly and professionally as they first arrived.

(View all the photos in the False Alarm on 13th Street set. View the video of the fire trucks on the street.)