On the Job: Pennsylvania


On Saturday, March 6, 2010, a four-alarm fire destroyed the historic Wendell August Forge in Grove City, PA. Water supply was a major problem from the beginning of the incident, as nearby hydrants could not supply the volume needed. Firefighting resources from Mercer, Lawrence, Venango and Butler counties were required to extinguish the fire.

The one-story, steel-frame and brick building was constructed in 1932. The roof consisted of the original steel roof with many layers of built-up roofing on top of it with the final roof being rubber membrane. The building was comprised of three sections – a 50-by-200-foot manufacturing facility, a 50-by-100-foot showroom and a 50-by-100-foot office area. The building was equipped with smoke detectors and the spray booth in the manufacturing area contained a fire suppression system.

The company was established in Brockway, PA, in 1923 and moved to its Grove City location in 1932. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was the only remaining company of its kind in the United States. The forge made customized pieces for Disney, Hershey, Coca-Cola, Pizza Hut and Met Life, producing products made from pewter, stainless and sterling silver, brass, aluminum and copper. The company operates other facilities in Exton, PA, and Berlin, OH.

Conditions On Arrival

The Mercer County Department of Public Safety 911 Center received a call reporting a fire at the Wendell August Forge facility at 620 Madison Ave. The Grove City Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched at 1:35 P.M. Grove City Engine 95, a 1,500-gpm pumper, Engine 95-2, a 1,250-gpm pumper, Aerial 95, a 100-foot aerial ladder with a 1,000-gpm pump, and Squad 95, an air unit, responded under the command of Fire Chief Jeff Badger.

At the time of the fire, the facility was open to the public for business and manufacturing operations were ongoing. Approximately six customers and 10 employees were in the building at the time. Second Assistant Chief Jeff Hodge arrived on the scene at 1:39 and found heavy smoke conditions. Hodge confirmed with employees that the entire building had been evacuated and that all employees and customers were accounted for.

Firefighters were met with heavy fire and smoke coming from half of the manufacturing section of the building and extending into the showroom. Engine 95 and Aerial 95 arrived on scene at 1:43. Engine 95 laid a 400-foot, five-inch supply line from a hydrant at Opre Avenue and North Madison and was positioned at the A/B corner of the building. Aerial 95 was positioned at the A/D corner of the building and set up for aerial master stream operations. This unit was fed by a 100-foot, five-inch supply line from a hydrant in front of the building.

Firefighters placed two 200-foot, 2½-inch attack lines into operation from Engine 95 along with its deck gun. A single 150-foot, 1¾-inch attack line was placed into operation from Aerial 95 along with its master stream. The hydrant in front of the building could not supply the needed flow for the aerial master stream operations, so a 300-foot, four-inch supply line was stretched to Engine 95 for additional water.

Due to the limited water supply, all firefighting operations were defensive except for some interior operations in the office area.

Hodge requested a second alarm at 1:40 P.M. Responding units included Pine Engine Company Engine 85, a 1,500-gpm pumper, and Engine 85-2, a 2,000-gpm pumper/tanker; Mercer East End Engine 87, a 1,500-gpm pumper, Tanker 87, a 2,100-gallon tanker with a 1,500-gpm pump, and Tanker 87-2, an 1,800-gallon tanker with a 1,000-gpm pump; Stoneboro Engine 76 for a rapid intervention team and Tanker 76, a 2,500-gallon tanker; a Jackson Center aerial for a rapid intervention team and a 2,500-gallon tanker; and Springfield Township Engine 77 and Tanker 77.

Water Supply

The municipal hydrants in the immediate area could not supply the volume necessary for firefighting operations. Badger decided that to supply the needed water, a large-scale tanker shuttle would be required. Fifteen additional fire departments from four counties were requested to send tankers to the scene. Some of the departments were up to 30 miles away.

Tankers responding from Mercer County included Jefferson Township Tanker 88, Fredonia Tanker 97, Clark Tanker 99, West Middlesex Tanker 74, Transfer Tanker 74, Sheakleyville Tanker 75, Sandy Lake Tanker 84, Hermitage Tanker 93 and Hempfield Township Tanker 94. Butler County departments included Slippery Rock Tanker 33, Harrisville Tanker 34 and Unionville Tanker 14. Lawrence County units included Scott Township Tanker 1500 and Volant Tanker 600. Clintonville Tanker 3 responded from Venango County.

A tanker fill site was established at a hydrant at the corner of South Broad Street and College Avenue, manned by firefighters from Mercer East End. The tanker dump site was established at the corner of North Madison and Oakland Avenue, two blocks from the fire scene. Two portable tanks were set up and Springfield Township Engine 77 established draft. Engine 77 pumped dual 400-foot, five-inch supply lines to Pine Engine 85, which pumped dual 400-foot, five-inch supply lines to Engine 95 and Aerial 95. Water-supply operations were assigned to Springfield Chief Steve Rea and Mercer East End Ex-Chief Bill Findley.

Continuing Operations

Grove City firefighters operated two 2½-inch attack lines, three 1¾-inch attack lines, one portable monitor and the aerial master stream for three hours. Harrisville units laid a 400-foot, four-inch supply line from Opre Avenue to the B/C side of the building. Two 2½-inch attack lines were put into operation. Sandy Lake units established a four-inch supply line from Princeton Street to the C/D side of the building. This line was wyed to two 2½-inch lines and one of the 2½-inch lines was wyed to a 1¾-inch attack line. Firefighters from incoming mutual aid units assisted in manning these lines.

Badger declared the fire under control at 4:46 P.M. Mutual aid units were released and the last Grove City units left the scene at 9:27 P.M.

Approximately 100 firefighters operated nine engines, one aerial and 15 tankers at the scene. Firefighters used 1,500 feet of five-inch supply line, 2,000 feet of four-inch supply line, 1,000 feet of 2½-inch attack line and 1,000 feet of 1¾-inch attack line. Two hundred fifty thousand gallons of water was used to extinguish the fire. There were no civilian or firefighter injuries.


Damage to the building was so extensive the fire department could not determine the cause of the fire. The building was turned over to the owners and the insurance company took over the investigation. Damage was estimated at $6 million.

Problems – Firefighters experienced water-supply problems from the start. The facility was located at the end of a dead-end street in a residential neighborhood. The hydrant in front of the building was on a six-inch water main, not capable of supplying the flow needed for this fire. The fire department has purchased a used tanker, conducted training on tanker operations and improved building pre-plans. Apparatus movement was also hindered by the dead-end residential street.

Successes – During suppression operations, firefighters salvaged dies needed for manufacturing operations. Historic items and documents were also salvaged.

JAY K. BRADISH/IFPA, Firehouse® news editor, is a former captain in the Bradford Township, PA, Fire Department. He has been a volunteer firefighter and fire photographer for more than 25 years.