Pennsylvania Firefighter Critical after Pipe Burst

WEST READING, Penn.-- A Reading Hospital plumber and a Spring Township volunteer firefighter were critically burned Thursday after a steam pipe burst, officials said.

The hospital employee, David Weber, 50, address unavailable, was in critical condition in Lehigh Valley Hospital, near Allentown, where he was transferred, officials said.

Officials said he was burned over nearly one-third of his body shortly after 7 a.m. when he went to check on a water main problem and the steam pipe burst.

Kevin Angstadt, 22, a volunteer with the Spring Township Volunteer Fire Department, also was in critical condition in Lehigh Valley Hospital with burns to his right ankle and right wrist, officials said.

Angstadt was burned when he stepped into a depression filled with water, lost his balance and tried to stop his fall with his right hand, said township Fire Commissioner John H. Schach Jr.

James M. Bitler, hospital facilities management manager, said a surge in water pressure dislodged a 40-foot section of an 8-inch water line beneath G Building on the east side of the campus near Fifth Avenue in West Reading.

He said the pipe fell from its supports and leaked cold water onto the steam pipe, causing that pipe to rupture. The steam pipe is in a trench at the bottom of the tunnel that runs between the building and the laundry building.

Bitler said he immediately called 9-1-1 because the lower level of the building -- which houses engineering service, facilities management and other non-clinical functions -- had filled with steam and needed to be evacuated. More than 100 employees were in the building.

Volunteers from a half-dozen fire companies responded and helped evacuate the building.

Hospital personnel shut down the boiler and tried to isolate the water problem.

The laundry building and several other buildings on the east side of the campus were without water service because of the broken water line.

Among the other affected buildings, only two -- J Building, which is the drug-and-alcohol treatment center, and the Spruce Pavilion, which is a mental health center -- are used by patients. Neither building was evacuated.

Bitler said surgeries were postponed Thursday when the boiler was shut off because there was no steam for sterilization.

Republished with permission of the Reading Eagle.