5-Alarmer Rips Pennsylvania Warehouse

Jay K. Bradish reports on a fire that destroyed a 100-year-old three-story, mill-type building in downtown Pottstown, PA.


POTTSTOWN FIRE DEPARTMENT Chief: Richard C. Lengel Personnel: Combination department (13 career firefighters, 45 volunteer firefighters, 16 career EMS personnel) Apparatus: Five pumpers, three aerials, one heavy rescue, one Special Operations rescue truck, two service/light trucks, five ALS...


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POTTSTOWN FIRE DEPARTMENT
Chief: Richard C. Lengel
Personnel: Combination department (13 career firefighters, 45 volunteer firefighters, 16 career EMS personnel)
Apparatus: Five pumpers, three aerials, one heavy rescue, one Special Operations rescue truck, two service/light trucks, five ALS units, two BLS units
Population: 22,000
Area: 5 square miles

On July 13, 2004, fire destroyed a 100-year-old building in downtown Pottstown, PA. Firefighters from three counties were needed to control the fire in the three-story, mill-type building. The brick building, measuring 50 by 200 feet, was constructed of heavy timber, thick wood plank flooring, a heavy wooden roof truss and a corrugated sheet metal roof.

The building was one of seven interconnected buildings in the former Doehler-Jarvis complex. At one time, the building had a sprinkler system, but it had been taken out of service several years earlier. This building was occupied by the TOPOS Mondail Co. and served as a warehouse for used commercial baking equipment. All three floors were filled with metal machinery and accessory equipment. The building was occupied at the time of the fire as employees were just arriving for work.

The Pottstown Fire Department is a combination department comprised of the Goodwill Steam Fire Engine Company 1, Philadelphia Steam Fire Engine Company 1, Empire Hook & Ladder Fire Company 1 and North End Fire Company 1.

The Pottstown Fire Department was dispatched to reported “smoke from the roof” of the warehouse located at 26 S. Washington St. at 6:59 A.M. Responding on the initial alarm were Squad 69 (a rescue pumper), Engine 69-7, Ladder 69 (a 100-foot rear-mount aerial), Squirt 69 (a pumper with a 55-foot articulating boom) and two advanced life support (ALS) units with 20 firefighters under the command of Chief Richard Lengel. (Squad 69 was also operating as Rescue 69, as the department’s new heavy rescue apparatus was on display at Firehouse Expo in Baltimore.)

First-in Squad 69 laid three supply lines to a position 150 feet off of the northeast corner of the fire building. Upon his arrival, Assistant Chief Harvey Hiembach of the Philadelphia Steam Fire Engine Company reported heavy smoke coming from the entire third floor and roof of the building with fire visible on the second floor west side.

Exposures on the east side were the remaining six interconnected buildings. To the west, 50 feet across South Washington Street, was a vacant manufacturing building. One hundred feet north was the public library. A nine-story senior citizens apartment building was located on the northwest corner 100 feet away. Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks were located on the south side of the building. Railroad personnel were on scene coordinating rail traffic with fire commanders during the entire incident. Rail traffic was slowed, but never stopped.

Firefighters deployed several 1¾-inch and 2½-inch handlines from Squad 69 to cover the exposure roofs on the east side of the fire. Engine 69-7 laid out 500 feet of five-inch supply line from a hydrant at Queen and Adams streets to the extreme eastern end of the complex. The crew hand-laid dual 600-foot three-inch attack lines with a blitz monitor into the complex building and extended to the inside east wall of the fire building. These deluge monitors were used to stop the fire from spreading into the eastern warehouse.

Ladder 69 was positioned on Apple Street at South Washington Street and was supplied with a 400-foot four-inch supply line that was hand-laid to a hydrant on the northwest corner of High Street. Crews placed both the bed pipe and the ladder pipe into operation.

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