Chaos erupted in South Shields town centre as a suspected fire broke out at a bank.
Fire engines, police cars and ambulances scrambled to the Yorkshire Bank in Fowler Street, at lunchtime.
A police cordon was thrown around the bank stopping people from walking under the building’s archways and round into Prince Georg Square.
Meanwhile emergency vehicles stretched back to the junction of Winchester Street, as crowds gathered to watch the drama unfold.
However, while fire officials say the ordeal was a false alarm, the bank is now closed and there’s a sign on its window reading: “Due to a fire we are unable to open until further notice. Sorry for any antivenins.”
A spokesperson for Yorkshire Bank has confirmed the branch is temporarily closed due to a problem with heating facilities.
They said: “Staff at branch called emergency services after discovering technical problem with heating facilities.
“Branch is temporarily closed but will re-open as soon as possible.
“We would like to apologise to customers for any inconvenience caused.”
The dramatic scenes caused alarm for some passers-by.
Mary Blackwood from Horlsey Hill, South Shields, thought she was in the midst of a terrorist operation.
The 70-year-old said: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many police cars, fire engines and ambulances in one place before.
“I didn’t have a clue what’s going on. There was a lot of activity but it was actually very quiet, there wasn’t much yelling and everyone was very calm.
“I thought it might be some kind of terrorist or hostage situation going on because I couldn’t see any flames and there was a bank involved.
“But I then figured they’d would have probably sealed the whole street off it that was the case.”
Her friend Rose Williams, 72, added: “After we watched for about 20 minutes someone standing near us said there was some kind of mechanical fault with equipment.
“Then not long after that some of the appliances started leaving. Thankfully it doesn’t appear to be anything major.”
A Northumbria Police spokesman added: “At 1pm police received a report from the fire service that a fire alarm had gone off at Yorkshire Bank. Emergency services attended but it was established that it was a false alarm. All people were accounted for and no fire had actually occurred.”
Shoppers were shocked after being caught up in the incident.
As emergency services arrived in Fowler Street, South Shields, just before 1pm, many passers-by were intrigued by what was happening.
Jack Arthur, 79, from Laygate, said: “I was just walking past when the fire engines zoomed by me, so I turned round and realised they’d stopped, so I decided to watch.
“It’s been quite something for a Monday lunchtime. You don’t see this everyday do you? Mind I’m still not sure what’s even happened.”
Meanwhile a 63-year-old woman caught the tail-end of the commotion while popping outside for cigarette break from her bingo session in the Denmark Centre.
She said: “I’ve been in the bingo for the last hour and only just come outside for a smoke.
“But there was so many people looking up towards Fowler Street my curiosity got the better of me so I went for a look too.
“I saw a fireman take what looked like a big fan inside the bank, that was about it.
“But whatever was going on appeared to be well under control.”