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On Wednesday, May 4, 2011, a four-alarm fire destroyed a 50-year-old bowling center in downtown Strasburg in Lancaster County, PA. The 180-by-200-foot, block building with a builtup flat roof was constructed in 1961. Later, in the mid-1970s, the flat roof, which was left in place, was covered with a bowstring truss roof that in turn was covered with rolled roofing material. There were no fire protection or detection systems in the building.
The Strasburg Fire Company and automatic mutual aid departments were dispatched to a reported structure fire at the Garden Spot Bowling Alley at 226 North Decatur St. at 9:16 P.M. Responding on the first alarm from Strasburg were Engine 5-10-1, Engine 5-10-2, Truck 5-10 (a 75-foot quint) and Tanker 5-10. Dispatched on mutual aid were Lafayette Fire Company Truck 6-3 (a 95-foot tower ladder); Ronks Fire Company Engine 4-8-2 and Heavy Rescue 4-8; Paradise-Lehman Place Fire Company Engine 4-7-2; Lampeter Fire Company Engine 5-4-2; and the Bird-in-Hand Fire Company Tanker 4-1. Fifty-four firefighters responded on the first alarm under the command of Strasburg Fire Chief Rick Wentz. Two employees and three customers evacuated the building before the arrival of the fire department.
First-arriving firefighters found attic space well involved and fire through the roof at the A/D corner. Strasburg Engine 5-10-2 laid a 300-foot, five-inch supply line from a hydrant at the A/D corner to the front of the building on side A. Strasburg Truck 5-10 was positioned at the A/B corner and set up for aerial master stream operations. Strasburg Engine 5-10-1 hooked onto a hydrant on the A/D corner with a five-inch supply line and pumped to Strasburg Engine 5-10-2. Three firefighters from Strasburg Truck 5-10 advanced a 250-foot, 2½-inch line through the front door from Strasburg Engine 5-10-2.
After making entry, the crew reported dark smoke banked down to within five feet of the floor. Firefighters could initially see the entire length of the building to the end of the bowling alleys where the pin setters were located. Within seconds, the smoke dropped to the floor and the temperature rose quickly with small fingers of flames rolling through the smoke. The crew immediately retreated to the outside of the building. Firefighters placed two 200-foot, 1¾-inch lines into operation on side A from Strasburg Engine 5-10-2. Strasburg Tanker 5-10 and Bird-in-Hand Tanker 4-1 were positioned in front of Engine 5-10-2 and provided water until the hydrant supply line was operational. Ronks Engine 4-8-2 took a position on side A and Ronks Rescue 4-8 was placed in a parking lot across from the A side of the building.
Wentz requested a second alarm at 9:21 P.M. Paradise-Leham Place Engine 4-7-1, Bart Township Fire Company Engine 5-1-1, Lampeter Engine 5-4-1 and Ronks Air Unit 4-8 responded with 22 firefighters.
Going on the Defensive
Wentz ordered defensive operations initiated at 9:30 P.M. Strasburg Truck 5-10 was supplied by a 100-foot, five-inch line from Strasburg Engine 5-10-2 for aerial master stream operations. Lafayette Truck 6-3 was set up for aerial master stream operations at the A/D corner. A second hydrant on the municipal water system at Pleasant View Drive and Clark Avenue was used. Firefighters hand-laid 300 feet of five-inch line from Ronks Engine 4-8-2 to the hydrant. Ronks Engine 4-8-2 supplied Lafayette Truck 6-3 with a 200-foot, five-inch line for master stream operations.
A 55-plus retirement community was on side C. Bart Township Engine 5-1-1 was assigned to operations on the C side of the fire building. Engine 5-1-1 was positioned in the parking lot of the retirement community and hooked onto a hydrant with a five-inch supply line. Firefighters placed several 1¾-inch lines in operation along with a three-inch line on side C. Exposures on side D included a dental office and a doctor’s office within 60 feet of the fire building. Lampeter Engines 5-4-1, 5-4-2 and 5-4-3 were assigned to these exposures. Crews operated several 1¾-inch lines to protect the exposures. Engine 5-4-1 also supplied a three-inch line on side D of the fire building. Pieces of debris were found a half-mile away.