Saturday, June 29, 2013

Anatomy of a False Alarm

 The Boulders, East Hadley Road, South Amherst

The attention getting call first came in 9:47 PM Friday night June 21 from a passerby reporting a "small fire on the roof" of the Boulders Apartment complex in South Amherst, scene of a good sized structure fire a few months back. 

It's a hot summer night and the moon is bright.  Dispatch, otherwise known as "The 729," instantly issues a "box alarm"-- a major step up from the routine "still alarm" that AFD responds to almost all of the time.
 What light through yonder window breaks?

Both on-duty, off-duty and call firefighters are alerted,  knowing instantly from the sound of the tone that this has a higher likely hood of being the real thing.  Every Amherst firefighter remembers all too well the box alarm siren call from major structure fire at Rolling Green Apartments last January.

The beast claimed a victim that day, despite the best efforts of a well-trained coordinated army of first responders.

Amherst Police are first on the scene, as is usually the case since they are always in their vehicles patrolling the town. They too know the meaning of the term "box alarm."

Engine 1 first on the scene

Engine 1 out of Central Station, with three men aboard, is the first AFD vehicle on scene.  A police officer assists the firefighters unravel hose.  Engine 2, with an aerial platform, soon arrives.

 Police officer assists unraveling hose

The glow on the roof reflects off a large tree directly in front of the two story wood building.  The bright moon overhead illuminates huge puffy clouds:  from the ground looking up at the edge of the building the clouds in the background resemble smoke, exactly where you would expect it.

When the moon hits your eye ...

The puzzling thing is the glow does not seem to grow -- an indication the beast is not present.  A police officer and fire fighter ask a tenant on the second floor of an attached building, what can she see?
Engine 2 (the quint) allows a firefighter direct access to the roof

Before she can respond another voice from the roof shouts, "Stand down, no fire." A security light had become misaligned to now mimic the telltale glow of a fire.

The busy motion on the ground -- police, firefighters, spectators -- seems to suspend for just a moment, heralding a collective sign of relief. 

Then everybody packs up and heads back to quarters.  Awaiting the next call that everyone knows will come.


In all, 18 firefighters (including 3 chief officers)  and close to a half dozen police officers responded, over the 45 minute duration of this call. Total extra cost for the two off-duty and 10 call firefighters who responded, about $400.  

The more concerning cost is not so much the money, but the other potential cost that's sometimes paid:  Units in a rush to get to the scene of an emergency are at a higher risk of being in an accident.

But mainly it's the "opportunity costs" of having assets tied up dealing with what turns out to be a non emergency when a real emergency arises on the other side of town. 

And in the emergency business, delay can equal death.


Anonymous said...

Well it could have been something like this -- and that's gonna cost those guys a pretty penny as well...

OH, the trauma, OH the psych bills...
Think three sorority girls won't be bringing in three Daddy's with lawyers????

Anonymous said...

Did anyone else in So. Amherst think that was gunshots last night? I think (hope) it was some idiot with fireworks.

Larry Kelley said...

APD gets those with some degree of regularity and, like a box alarm, they react as though it were the real thing.

This time of year, probably fireworks.

Anonymous said...

Gunshots sound different -- they are more directional and the echo is different.

And yes, there is a good chance it WAS gunshots.

Larry Kelley said...

To you, an expert, perhaps.

Dr. Ed said...

The line fuses on the primary (top) powerlines sound all-the-world like a .30-06 when they blow -- and if a pole goes down, all three will blow in rapid succession. Hopefully....

On the other hand, if a transformer overloads or one line comes down, or is grounded by an errant tree bough or whatnot, just the fuse(s) on that particular line will blow.

The way to tell if they've blown (other than the lights beyond them going out) is that they hang down afterwards -- they are mounted up and into a bracket and when they blow the part that held them into the bracket is gone, so they fall down and stay down. (The bottom mount is hinged.)

But they sound very much like a rifle was just fired over (not at) you.

Dr. Ed said...

BTW -- Boulders still ONLY have those single battery-powered smoke detectors in each unit? No central building alarm, no CO alarms?

Shouldn't someone be, at least, asking them nicely to think about this???

Anonymous said...

Geesh Larry- you'd be a great volunteer- first to the scene.

In other local news- Kevin Ziomek pitches tonight for the CT Tigers
Audio available on their website.

His game should be starting soon as the first game a double header just ended!

Anonymous said...

The Boulders has local smoke detectors in individual units. If a detector in the hallway trips, it puts the entire building in alarm.

Anonymous said...

Ed, were you ever a firefighter? Was that you that commented anonymously on Larry's tribute to the AZ Firefighters post on July 1 at 00:47 hours? I noticed you made other comments right around the time that one was published.