On The Job: Pennsylvania - 31 Departments Respond To Four-Alarm Fire in Downtown Pottstown

Jay Bradish reports on a four-alarm fire that damaged or destroyed five historic buildings and challenged incident commanders.


31 Departments Respond To Four-Alarm Fire in Downtown Pottstown On Saturday, Jan. 26, 2008, a four-alarm fire damaged or destroyed five historic buildings in downtown Pottstown, PA. The incident required the resources of 31 fire departments from Montgomery, Chester, Berks and Bucks counties...


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31 Departments Respond To Four-Alarm Fire in Downtown Pottstown

On Saturday, Jan. 26, 2008, a four-alarm fire damaged or destroyed five historic buildings in downtown Pottstown, PA. The incident required the resources of 31 fire departments from Montgomery, Chester, Berks and Bucks counties.

The multi-story buildings were constructed in the late 1880s of brick and timber. Situated in the middle of a block, they were typical "taxpayer" buildings with commercial occupancies on the first floor and apartments on the second and third floors. Flat tar roofs of multiple layers added over the years were several inches thick. The fire building, at 261 High St., was three stories containing 5,220 square feet, with a discount store on the first floor and the second and third floors were vacant and open, having been gutted during construction renovation.

Incident commanders were challenged with four exposures during the incident. Exposure one was a three-story furniture store at 265-269 High St. with showrooms on all three floors containing 17,900 square feet. Exposure two was a three-story building at 259 High St. containing 5,220 square feet with a restaurant on the first floor and three apartments on the second and third floors. Exposure three was a three-story building at 257 High St. containing 5,220 square feet and had a tax preparation office on the first floor and three apartments on the second and third floors. Exposure four was a three-story building at 255 High St. containing 8,520 square feet with a vacant storefront on the first floor and two apartments on the second and third floors. All buildings were staggered in height from front to rear.

The combination Pottstown Fire Department is made up of 13 career and 45 volunteer firefighters operating out of four stations. The department is comprised of the Goodwill Steam Fire Company 1; Philadelphia Steam Fire Engine Company 1, Empire Hook and Ladder Company 1, and North End Fire Company 1.

The Pottstown Fire Department was dispatched to a reported fire at the discount store at 261 High St. at 11:25 A.M. At the time of the fire, the store was open with customers inside. Responding on the first alarm were Quint 69, a 75-foot aerial ladder with a 1,500-gpm pump; Ladder 69, a 100-foot rear-mount aerial ladder with a 1,250-gpm pump; Squirt 69, a 1,500-gpm pumper with a 55-foot articulating boom; Heavy Rescue 69; and an EMS unit from Goodwill Ambulance with 18 firefighters under the command of Department Assistant Chief Donald Gebhard.

Upon arrival of the first unit at 11:27, Ladder 69 reported a heavy smoke condition at the rear of the building with gray smoke emitting from the roof line and around a locked metal man door at the rear of the building. Quint 69 was positioned in front of the fire building and supplied by a 200-foot five-inch line from a hydrant at High and Charlotte streets. Ladder 69 was positioned in front of 259 High St. and fed by a 300-foot five-inch line from a hydrant at South Side High and Penn Street. Squirt 69 was positioned in the alley at the rear of 257 High St. and supplied by a 400-foot five-inch line from a hydrant at Charlotte and King streets. Rescue 69 was staged on High Street across from 259 High.

Gebhard requested a second alarm at 11:29. Pottstown Fire Chief Richard C. Lengel responded from the fire academy at this time. Mutual aid responding units included West End Fire Company Engine 57-3, a 1,500-gpm pumper; Sanatoga Fire Company Engine 58, a 1,500-gpm pumper, and Quint 58, a 75-foot aerial ladder with a 1,500-gpm pump; Collegeville Fire Company Rescue 34; Humane Fire Company Engine 84, a 2,000-gpm pumper, and Ladder 84, a 100-foot aerial ladder.

Initial Attack

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