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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Other departments responding for station coverage or relief crews at the scene included the Amity Township, East Greenville, Keystone, King of Prussia, Milford Township, North Penn, Red Hill, Towamencin Township, Trappe, Upper Pottsgrove Township, Upper Salford and Worchester Township fire companies.

Fire Investigation

An 8½-hour investigation by Lengel, who is also Pottstown's fire marshal, and Montgomery County District Attorney's Office investigators determined that the fire originated in the rear storeroom of the discount store and was caused by the catastrophic failure of an electrical sub-panel. Management of the discount store reported to investigators that a portable phone in the store had stopped working about 11 A.M. Occupants smelled smoke at approximately 11:20, and discovered smoke and fire coming from the electrical panel at the rear of the store. While one employee called 911, another employee used two or three fire extinguishers in an attempt to fight the fire. At 11:24, occupants of the store evacuated through the front door.

"The age of the historic buildings on High Street is part of the problem," Lengel said. "Many of the buildings were built before modern fire codes were in place. The wood-frame buildings don't always have fire walls to prevent the spread of fire."

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.