I had gone to lunch after working on a blog piece about hiking a new trail. When I arrived at my apartment, a fire engine was blocking the entrance to my building. The fire alarm in the breezeway was “EH! EH EHHHING!” at full blast. Yet, no fire. Moreover, no flashing lights nor sense of urgency.
Maybe a medical emergency could have happened-heart attack, stroke, ceiling fan mishap. However, no ambulance either.
A fireman was casually unloading equipment from the truck. I approached him and asked, half kidding, if the building was on fire. He replied with a good-natured half-smirking, “No.” I decided to push the envelope. “That’s a good thing, right?” He responded with a matching deadpan, “Yes. It is,” and returned to unloading his equipment.
Since the situation presented no immediate threat, I went inside and put away the food I had bought for dinner. Then, I went back outside to retrieve a bottle of water from my car. I paused in the parking lot, hearing rushing water from the lawn below the parking lot. Not Yosemite Falls crashing to the granite, but the mild thunder of the rapids that attract white water rafters.
I looked over the fence and water was gushing out of the utility shed attached to the building. It was impressive, surging about 15 feet up and out from the side of the building. The water sprayed with force-an an upward cascade with enough energy to launch thousands of “Dog chomps at water” Tik Tok videos.
Walking back to the building to get my phone, I passed the dry-witted fireman. “You don’t see that every day,” I said, not expecting a response. Firemen see this kind of stuff every day, I presumed. He remained affably impassive. “No. You don’t.” And he strolled down to the surge.
A crew of three firefighters had arrived to stop the deluge. One sported the full fireman gear-helmet, rubber suit and boots. The other two were wearing official fire department T-shirts and cargo pants, like they had come from a firehouse chili cook-off.
The fire crew stood back from the shed, allowing the water to pour out. I guess they were figuring out the best approach to shutting off the break. After a few minutes, the firefighter in full gear simply pushed the door shut.
The water slowed to a steady stream, leaking out of the shed like an overflowing bathtub. One of the crew in T-shirt and cargo pants approached the water main and jabbed a six-foot crucifix-shaped rod in the valve.
He methodically twisted the metal cross while the other two looked on. From time to time, the crew member in full gear came over and hammered the cross with a large pipe. While they worked, the nasally, metronomic honk of the fire alarm continued belching, alerting no one and annoying everyone.
A critical tactic for engaging with first responders is not engaging while they’re doing their jobs. Even though the break in the water main presented no imminent threat, I stayed in the parking lot while the firefighters sealed off the rupture. Nonetheless, when I interacted with them, they were courteous and displayed a wry wit.
And, their caustic humor emerged while they plugged the surge. The firefighter shutting off the water main flippantly rebuked the other two crew members, “I’m doing all the work here.” In turn, the other crew member in T-shirt and cargo pants rebuked his bellyaching with, “You have the most nimble fingers.”
When they finally shut off the water completely, the crew applauded. Not a “Congratulations on your long overdue lifetime achievement award!” applause. It was more of a “Glad you didn’t let the spaghetti sauce boil over” ovation. Consequently, the “hero” turned to the crew, gave an exaggerated bow and taunted them. “Glad y’all could help.”
And, now that the “crisis” was over, the first responder who shut off the water main graciously posed for a selfie.
Now, I had to figure out what to do for dinner since I didn’t have any water.
Special thanks to all the first responders who keep us safe, especially in these trying times!