4-Alarm Fire Destroys Pennsylvania Factory

Heavy Fire Conditions, Collapse Potential Bar Interior Attack

On Monday, Aug. 20, 2007, a four-alarm fire destroyed the Innovative Machining Technologies Co. in Pottstown, PA. The fire required the resources of 12 fire departments to bring it under control. The one-story, brick and cement-block structure was irregularly shaped, 250 feet at its longest and 140 feet at its widest and containing 22,680 square feet. The roof was constructed with riveted metal trusses, covered with wood sheathing and asphalt shingles. There were no fire detection or suppression systems in the building, originally built as the Keystone Foundry more than 100 years ago. The current occupant of the building manufactured internal parts for power generation turbines and other exotic-metal parts for customers worldwide.

The Pottstown Fire Department was initially dispatched at 6:54 P.M. for a report of heavy smoke in the area of 100 South Keim St. Responding on the first alarm were Engine 69-6, a 1,000-gpm pumper; Squrt 69, a 1,500-gpm pumper with a 55-foot articulating boom; Ladder 69, a 100-foot rear-mount aerial ladder with a 1,250-gpm pump; Heavy Rescue 69 and one ambulance with a total of 15 firefighters under the command of Assistant Chief Donald Gebhard. While units were responding, the call was upgraded to heavy smoke coming from the Innovated Machining building at 861 Cross St.

Upon arrival of the first unit, heavy fire was venting from the roof at the northern end of the building. Firefighters found heavy smoke inside the building and observation of the roof showed heat damage along the entire length of the peak of the roof as the fire had extended along the underside of the roof. It was confirmed that the building was empty of any occupants. No interior operations were initiated due to the heavy fire conditions and the possibility of early roof and wall collapse.

Squrt 69 laid a 500-foot, five-inch supply line from a hydrant on South Keim Street to the northeast corner of the building and placed its aerial master stream into operation. Engine 69-6 was positioned on Cross Street and supplied by a 200-foot, five-inch hydrant line. Ladder 69 was ordered to the center of the building on South Keim Street and set up for aerial master stream operations. This unit was supplied by three 50-foot, three-inch lines from fire pumps at the Dana Corp. across the street from the fire building. Rescue 69 was staged at the intersection of South Keim and Cross streets.

Upon arrival, Gebhard immediately requested a second alarm at 7:04 P.M. The Sanatoga Fire Company of Lower Pottsgrove Township responded with Engine 58, a 1,500-gpm pumper; Engine 58-1, a 1,500-gpm pumper, and Quint 58, a 75-foot ladder with a 1,500-gpm pump; the Friendship Fire Company of Royersford sent Engine 84, a 2,000-gpm pumper; and Ladder 84, a 100-foot ladder; the West End Fire Company of West Pottsgrove Township responded with Engine 57, a 1,500-gpm pumper; and the Collegeville Fire Company sent Rescue 34.

Second-alarm companies were deployed on the west side of the fire. Ladder 84 was positioned at the southwest corner of the building and set up for aerial master stream operations. This aerial was supplied by Engine 69-6 through a 100-foot, three-inch line. Engine 96-4 laid an 800-foot, four-inch supply line from a hydrant on South Keim Street to a position on the east side of the fire. Two 250-foot 2½-inch lines were laid to Squirt 69 to supplement its water supply. Two portable ground master stream devices also were deployed to the east side from Engine 69-4 and fed by 150-foot, three-inch lines. Engine 84 was placed on the hydrant on South Keim Street and pumped an 800-foot, four-inch line to Engine 69-4. Quint 58 was positioned at the northwest corner of the building and set up for ladder pipe operations. Engine 58 laid a 900-foot, five-inch supply line from a hydrant at South and Montgomery streets to Quint 58. Engine 58-1 laid a 1,200-foot, five-inch supplemental supply line from a hydrant at Queen and South Keim streets to Squrt 69.

Fire Chief Richard Lengel arrived on scene at 7:10 P.M. After conferring with Gebhard, he requested a third alarm. Ringing Hill Fire Company of Lower Pottsgrove Township responded with Engine 59, a 1,500-gpm pumper; the Limerick Fire Company sent Squad 54, a rescue-pumper with a 1,500-gpm pump; the New Hanover Fire Company responded with Ladder 37, a 75-foot ladder with a 1,500-gpm pump; and the North Penn Goodwill Canteen Service responded with three units. Also dispatched on the third alarm was the Montgomery County Fire Incident Support Team, which is made up of 10 command-level personnel to assist local incident commanders with support functions such as multiple safety officers, water supply officers, planning and documentation.

Ladder 37 was positioned on the west side of the structure and set up for aerial master stream operations. Squad 69 laid a 1,000-foot, five-inch supply line from a hydrant at Cross and Madison streets to Engine 57, positioned on Cross Street. Engine 57 pumped two 150-foot, three-inch lines to Ladder 37's ladder pipe.

Lengel requested a fourth alarm at 7:39 P.M. The Pennsburg Fire Company responded with Engine 65, a 1,500-gpm pumper; Ringling Hill sent Engine 59; the Trappe Fire Company responded with Engine 77, a 1,500-gpm pumper; the Friendship Hook and Ladder Fire Company of Boyertown in Berks County dispatched Ladder 15, a 100-foot ladder and the Norco Fire Company of North Coventry Township in Chester County responded with Rescue 64. These units provided standby coverage at Pottstown stations and answered several other minor calls during the fire.

Lengel declared the fire under control at 8:45 P.M. Mutual aid units were released at 12:19 A.M. on Aug. 21. Pottstown Engine 69-4 and Squrt 69 and crews provided a fire watch until 8:38 A.M. More than 130 firefighters operated five aerial devices, eight engines, three portable monitors and numerous handlines to control the fire. No injuries were reported.

An investigation into the cause of the fire was conducted by the Pottstown fire marshal, Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal and the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office fire investigator. It was determined that the fire was caused by the failure of an electrical transformer mounted inside the building near the roof. Damage was estimated at $1.3 million to the building and $2 million to the contents.

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.