On The Job: PENNSYLVANIA

On Saturday, Dec. 13, 2008, a three-alarm fire destroyed the Comfort Inn hotel in East Franklin Township, PA. The three-story hotel was built in 1995 with a steel and block superstructure and a wood and shingle roof. The building was 100 feet by 250 feet...


On Saturday, Dec. 13, 2008, a three-alarm fire destroyed the Comfort Inn hotel in East Franklin Township, PA. The three-story hotel was built in 1995 with a steel and block superstructure and a wood and shingle roof. The building was 100 feet by 250 feet. Smoke detectors were on all three floors and...


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Tower 131 was positioned at the center of the building on side A and fed with a 400-foot, five-inch supply line from Engine 244. Due to low water pressure from Engine 244, an additional 700-foot, five-inch line was laid by Engine 164 from a hydrant in the shopping center. Tower 131 was set up for possible aerial master stream operations. Rescue 310 was staged to handle any additional calls. All second-alarm manpower was assigned to third-floor operations.

Roof Failure

At 2:52 P.M., portions of the roof began to fail. The 14 firefighters manning the four interior lines were ordered to evacuate the building. After a personnel accountability report (PAR) was taken, a defensive attack was initiated from Tower 131 with two 750-gpm master streams from the bucket. After 20 minutes, the master streams were shut down and crews reassembled to continue interior operations.

Due to low water pressure on the hydrants, Feeney requested a third alarm at 3:09 P.M. for tankers to be used as an alternate water supply. Nineteen tankers were requested from three counties. Responding were East Franklin Township Tanker 60, a 1,500-gallon tanker with a 1,000-gpm pump; South Buffalo Township Volunteer Fire Department Tanker 221, a 2,500-gallon tanker with a 1,500-gpm pump; Sugar Creek Volunteer Fire Department Tanker 230, a 2,000-gallon tanker with a 1,000-gpm pump; Distance Volunteer Fire Department Tanker 300, a 1,500-gallon tanker with a 1,000-gpm pump; Washington Township Volunteer Fire Department Tanker 280, a 2,500-gallon tanker with a 750-gpm pump; Dayton Volunteer Fire Department Tanker 30, a 2,000-gallon tanker; Kittanning Township Tanker 310, a 2,500-gallon tanker with a 1,500-gpm pump; Gilpin Township Volunteer Fire Department Tanker 100, a 2,500-gallon tanker with a 1,500-gpm pump; Kiski Township Volunteer Fire Department Tanker 140, a 3,000-gallon tanker with a 1,500-gpm pump; Bethel Township Volunteer Fire Department Tanker 270, a 1,500-gallon tanker with a 1,000-gpm pump; Parks Township Volunteer Fire Department Tanker 200, a 2,000-gallon tanker with a 1,000-gpm pump; Pine Township/Templeton Volunteer Fire Department Tanker 190, a 2,000-gallon tanker; Elderton Volunteer Fire Department Tanker 50, a 1,500-gallon tanker; Rayburn Township Volunteer Fire Department Tanker 260, a 2,500-gallon tanker with a 1,500-gpm pump; Worthington & West Franklin Tanker 250, a 2,500-gallon tanker with a 1,500-gpm pump; a Lick Hill Volunteer Fire Department 3,000-gallon tanker; and an East Butler Volunteer Fire Department 3,000-gallon tanker. Engines 251 and 162 were set up to draft out of four portable tanks to supply water to the fireground. A tanker fill site was established four miles away on another municipal water system so as not to affect the water supply being used on the fireground. The tankers did not have to be used as the fire was knocked down and the municipal water supply was sufficient for overhaul operations.

After the aerial master streams were shut down, interior operations resumed. In addition to the four handlines already in place, Ladder 111 supplied a 150-foot, three-inch line that was wyed into two 100-foot, 1¾-inch handlines. Twenty-six firefighters were now assigned to the interior operations on the third floor.

Under Control

Feeney declared the fire under control at 5 P.M. and began releasing mutual aid companies. Everything on the third floor in the fire area, approximately 20 rooms, was dumped out the windows and hosed down due to small pockets of fire in the beds and furniture. A large amount of insulation was shoveled out to prevent rekindles.

Investigators from East Franklin Fire Department; Pennsylvania State Police Fire Marshal's Office and private insurers conducted a four-day, on-scene investigation. The fire originated in the bathroom ceiling area of Room 322. It was determined that it was electrical in nature, being a 110-volt feed to the electric fan/light in the bathroom. Damage was estimated at over $4.5 million. The third floor and roof were total losses with the first and second floors suffering 75% loss.

Lessons Learned

Pre-plans and on-site drills at the hotel conducted with all first-alarm departments enabled firefighters to be familiar with its structure and layout. Also, the departments have responded to many smoke alarms and small fires here over the years. A search crew has been added to the pre-plan as the search efforts required eight of the first-arriving firefighters. Accountability of firefighters in the large structure was a concern as firefighters would often enter through one entrance and exit the building from another. Officers from mutual aid departments were assigned at each entrance and notified command of crew locations.