On The Job - Pennsylvania: 16 Departments Battle Massive Store Fire

Jay K. Bradish reports on a commercial fire that required the efforts of 200 firefighters to control and caused approximately $15 million in damage.


On March 29, 1999, a fast-moving fire destroyed the K-Mart store in the Route 51 Plaza in Pleasant Hills, PA. About 200 firefighters from 16 departments battled the blaze, which caused an estimated $12 million in damage. PLEASANT HILLS VOLUNTEER FIRE COMPANY Chief...


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The interior crew was already retreating due to the fire conditions and collapse when the order was given. It was decided to go into a defensive mode with master streams. At 12:50, Kunz informed the command post that all firefighters had safely exited the building. Within two minutes, the fire reached the front of the store, blowing out the front windows and threatening Engine 2. Assistant Chief Todd Pritchard placed the engine’s 1,000-gpm stepgun into service along with a 200-foot 21¼2-inch handline and a 11¼2-inch trash line into operation at the front doors of the building. At the same time, Lieutenant Rob Richardson placed the engine’s 2,000-gpm deck gun into operation to protect the apparatus and firefighters from the flames.

Whitehall Truck 6, a 75-foot aerial, arrived on scene at 12:51 and was positioned on side 3, where Price was reporting heavy fire through the roof. At 12:51, the hydrant supply line to Engine 2 was charged. Haeck requested mutual aid from Broughton Fire Company at 12:53. At 12:54, the hydrant supply line to Rescue 2 and the supply line to Truck 2 were charged. A minute later, Engine 65’s hydrant supply line was charged. West Mifflin Squirt 296 was positioned on side 1 south of the main entrance. Whitehall Rescue 6, a walk-in rescue with a cascade system, then arrived and was positioned on side 4 (north end).

variety of hazards

Haeck again advised all firefighters NOT to enter the building. Supply lines were established from engines to Truck 295 and Truck 6. Haeck told Price he was concerned about a collapse on side 3 as the building was fully involved and his primary concern was safety. Haeck ordered all firefighters who were in smoke to be masked-up as pesticides, ammunition and propane were burning and exploding. Minimum collapse zones were established around the building.

At 1:02, Price reported to command that the walls on side 3 were bowing. Haeck ordered the apparatus and crews be repositioned to the side 3/side 4 corner. Price requested additional manpower to side 3 to help relocate the apparatus and hoselines. From the platform of Truck 2, Lieutenant Mark Grimm reported that the wall on side 1 was leaning inward. Truck 2 requested additional water pressure from Rescue 2, but was told no more pressure was available. The Brentwood Fire Company was called for mutual aid at 1:10. Broughton Engine 42 arrived at 1:11 and was positioned at the Route 51 hydrant south of the complex. West Mifflin Wagon 295 had just completed laying a 1,200-foot supply line from this hydrant to West Mifflin Engine 295, positioned on side 1.

Engine 65 and Truck 6 reported to command that they had relocated to the corner at side 3/side 4 at 1:12. South Baldwin Engine 8 laid a 2,000-foot supply line from Engine 65 to a hydrant on East Bruceton Road west of the fire. Option Engine 10 hooked onto this hydrant with soft suction. Engine 65 was then able to supply Castle Shannon Truck 15, a 100-foot elevated platform located on side 4, with two 200-foot supply lines. Engine 65 was also supplying Truck 6.

Haeck requested mutual aid from Jefferson Fire-Rescue at 12:55. Rescue Engine 73 was set up at the corner of side 1/side 2 to protect the south-end exposures. This engine was supplied with a supply line from Engine 2. Crews operated two 21¼2-inch handlines. Jefferson Hills Fire-Rescue Truck 16, a 100-foot aerial, was set up at the corner of side 2/side 3 and was supplied with a supply line from Pleasant Hills Engine 25, which was hooked onto the south private hydrant with six-inch soft suction that was initially taken by Engine 2.

A cement block firewall separated K-Mart from a furniture store and five other businesses. A coordinated defensive stand was successful at this point, even though the fire wall became distorted and damaged. Squirt 296, Truck 295 and Truck 16 operated aerial master streams along this area. Firefighters advanced two 21¼2-inch handlines, one to the roof and one to the interior of the furniture store from Jefferson Hills Engine 293 along with Engine 2’s 1,000-gpm stepgun to protect the exposures.

decontamination ordered

Haeck declared the fire under control at 3:40 P.M. By 8 P.M., it was decided to release mutual aid equipment not in operation at the scene. Because of the various hazardous materials that had burned, decontamination of all firefighters and apparatus was required. The Allegheny County Hazardous Materials Team was responsible for the decontamination of firefighters.