Multiple-Alarm Fire Destroys White Township Printing Plant

More than 170 firefighters from four counties responded to a multiple-alarm fire that destroyed a printing plant in White Township, Indiana County, PA, on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012. The fire caused $75 million in damage and left more than 200 employees out...


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More than 170 firefighters from four counties responded to a multiple-alarm fire that destroyed a printing plant in White Township, Indiana County, PA, on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012. The fire caused $75 million in damage and left more than 200 employees out of work.

Firefighters were challenged early by not having enough water to supply master streams. Also, throughout the incident, out-of-county responders were unable to communicate by radio with command and Indiana County units.

The 75,000-square-foot metal building was constructed in the 1980s with several additions being built over the years with the last one erected in 2001. The metal-roofed building, which had no fire walls or fire detection or suppression system, pre-dated codes requiring sprinklers.

The local fire department, the Indiana Fire Association, was established in 1875. Today, the fully volunteer department has 65 members and operates out of two stations. The department protects Indiana Borough; Indiana University of Pennsylvania, with 15,000 students; the 250-bed Indiana Medical Regional Hospital; 90% of White Township; and portions of Armstrong and Rayne townships. The department provides rescue services, but all EMS is provided by Citizens Ambulance Service.

Initial operations

The Indiana Fire Association was dispatched at 8:37 A.M. to a reported commercial structure fire at Creps United Publications Co. at 40 Christy Park Drive in White Township. Firefighters were advised that a printing press was on fire. Responding on the initial alarm were Engines 102 and 108, both 1,500-gpm pumpers; Ladder 101, a 1,500-gpm quint with a 75-foot aerial ladder; Ladder 106, a 2,000-gpm quint with a 105-foot aerial ladder; and Heavy Rescue 105, with 22 firefighters under the command of Chief Charles Kelly.

While responding, Kelly saw heavy, black smoke coming from the area of the facility. On arrival, he saw heavy smoke from the entire roof line of the building. Ladder 106, responding from the west, reported heavy smoke at the rear, side C, and the west, side D, of the building. Company personnel advised Kelly that all employees had evacuated and were accounted for.

Kelly was concerned for firefighter safety due to the large size of the building and the heavy smoke. He ordered Ladder 106 to lay a five-inch line from a hydrant on Philadelphia Avenue near Shelly Drive to the A/B corner of the building. This hydrant was on an eight-inch water main. Ladder 106 then proceeded to the B/C corner and hooked onto a hydrant with a 100-foot section of five-inch hose. This hydrant was on a six-inch main fed from the eight-inch main on West Philadelphia Street.

Ladder 101 was ordered to position at the A/B corner of the building and hook onto the five-inch supply line laid by Ladder 106. The crew from Ladder 106, under the command of Firefighter Paul Koons, entered the building through a man door at the rear corner of side B, then advanced upstairs and encountered heavy smoke. The crew also faced intense heat and could operate its 1¾-inch line for only a few minutes. Readings on the thermal imaging camera topped 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. The smoke was so heavy that firefighters could hear the fire roaring high in the ceiling area, but could not see any fire and their thermal imaging camera showed nothing. The crew evacuated the building and advised Kelly that it was unsafe to conduct interior operations.

Within the first 10 minutes of the incident, Kelly determined that operations would be defensive. Firefighters placed three 200-foot, 1¾-inch lines and two 200-foot, three-inch lines into operation to supply two ground monitors on side A. Crews placed three 200-foot, 1¾-inch lines into operation from Ladder 106 on side C. One ground monitor was also positioned on side C and supplied with a 200-foot, three-inch line from Ladder 106. Aerial master streams were placed into operation from Ladders 101 and 106. Indiana Engine 102 and Black Lick Engine 141 each placed a master stream device into operation. Indiana Engine 102 placed a ground monitor into operation on side C supplied with 250 feet of three-inch hose.

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