On The Job - Pennsylvania: Destruction of Landmark Hotel Spurs Efforts To Protect Historic Structures

Jay K. Bradish discusses a fire problem in Bellefonte, PA, after three-alarm fire destroyed a 138-year-old downtown hotel.


The rampant demolition of historic buildings in the United States from the 1950s through the 1970s largely bypassed Bellefonte, PA, leaving many large historically and architecturally significant commercial and residential buildings untouched. This has now become a fire problem for Bellefonte. For...


To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.

OR

Complete the registration form.

Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required

The rampant demolition of historic buildings in the United States from the 1950s through the 1970s largely bypassed Bellefonte, PA, leaving many large historically and architecturally significant commercial and residential buildings untouched. This has now become a fire problem for Bellefonte. For instance, on Feb. 8, 2006, a three-alarm fire destroyed a 138-year-old historic downtown hotel. This was the second fire in 18 months to destroy a historic building in Bellefonte - on July 14, 2004, the 119-year-old Bellefonte Academy was destroyed by fire. Both buildings were listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Last month, fire destroyed a third building in the historic district (see page 57). The fires and their impact on the local fire department and the community offer a case study in managing fire risk in historic structures.

The four-story hotel was built by Daniel Bush in 1868. In its day, the Bush House "ranked as one of the most perfectly appointed and commodious hotels in central Pennsylvania." The hotel hosted such legendary Americans as Amelia Earhart, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh. Constructed of ordinary material with brick walls, four to six courses thick, the building had a wooden roof covered with an asphalt shingles and metal roofing. The building occupied a footprint of 15,000 square feet. Fire protection systems in the building included a manual-pull station fire alarm that was not tied to a central system and a limited-area sprinkler system in the central stairway that also was not tied to an alarm system. At the time of the fire, the building contained two restaurants, a tavern, several business offices, banquet facilities, hotel rooms and an innkeeper's suite. There were no rooms rented and the innkeeper was staying elsewhere.

The Bellefonte Fire Department, consisting of the Logan Fire Company and Undine Fire Company, was dispatched for "reported smoke coming from the roof" of the Bush House at 315 W. High St. at 6:57 A.M. Mount Nittany Medical Center Paramedic Matt Boone, returning from a call, was stopped at the intersection of High and Water streets and immediately informed the Centre County Emergency Communications Center of heavy smoke issuing from the fourth floor. The sun was just beginning to rise, making the smoke visible. Soon after dispatch, communications advised that multiple calls were being received reporting the fire.

Responding on the initial alarm were Bellefonte Engine 1-11 with a crew of four, Engine 2-12 with a crew of six, Truck 2-17 with a crew of five and Rescue 1-14 with a crew of five. Bellefonte Deputy Fire Chief (and Logan Fire Chief) Jim Beaver arrived on scene at 6:59 and observed heavy smoke showing and immediately requested a second alarm. Beaver established command on side A of the building. Bellefonte Fire Chief Tim Knisely arrived on side C and reported heavy smoke conditions at the rear of the building in the area of the dining room and established the rear sector.

Truck 2-17 was first to arrive and positioned on side A and the crew forced entry to the main lobby of the hotel. Firefighters encountered heavy smoke and heat, but no visible fire as they began a primary search. Engine 1-11 was next to arrive and laid 100 feet of five-inch supply line from a hydrant at the intersection of High and Water streets to a position in front of the building. The crew from this engine forced entry into a business office on side A and advanced a 200-foot 1¾-inch attack line into the office area. Firefighters encountered heavy smoke and heat, but found no fire until the drop ceiling was pulled. Heavy fire was found in the ceiling and suppression efforts were initiated in this area.

This content continues onto the next page...