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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At 7:34, Lengel ordered all firefighters to evacuate the building. The first structural collapse occurred at 7:37, as the west center wall area of the fire building collapsed over half of the wall into the structure. Lengel requested a fourth alarm at 7:47. Pennsburg Fire Company Engine 65, a 1,500-gpm pumper; Boyertown Ladder 15, a 100-foot aerial from Bucks County; Boyertown Salvation Army Canteen and the North Penn Goodwill Service Canteen 41 responded.

Pennsburg Engine 65 and Boyertown Ladder 15 were positioned on the south side of the fire for manpower, and Trappe Engine 77 was stationed at High and Washington streets for the manpower pool. The Boyertown Salvation Army Canteen was stationed on the south side of the fire south of the railroad tracks to support units operating on the south side. Canteen 41 was positioned on High Street in front of the library and used for a rehab center for firefighters.

Lengel requested a fifth alarm at 9:05. Skippack Fire Company Engine 86, King of Prussia Fire Company Heavy Rescue 47 and Lower Providence Township Fire Company Tower 53 ( a 75-foot aerial) responded and were placed on standby at Pottstown Station 69A for coverage of the municipality.

A second structural collapse occurred at 9:21. This collapse involved the entire roof and remaining walls, including the east wall. Approximately one hour into the operation, the water department advised the fire command that the water treatment plant was down. This was due to the high water level and debris in the river as a result of recent heavy rains clogging the intakes. The two water system reservoirs were pulled down significantly. One reservoir dropped to 42% of capacity and the other to 70% of capacity before the plant was brought back on line after about two hours. At no time was there a water shortage at the scene; however, plans for tanker support were in place at the command post.

Lengel declared the fire under control at 10:51 A.M. In addition to the master streams and handlines already in use, firefighters stretched two 1¾-inch lines to the roof on the north side of the building to knock down hot spots that were under the collapsed debris. Mutual aid companies began being released at 1 P.M. The last Pottstown unit left the scene on Thursday, July 15, at 9:16 A.M., 52 hours after the initial alarm.

Firefighters operated 10 engines, seven aerial devices, two deck guns, seven portable monitors and numerous handlines to extinguish the fire. No injuries were reported by any of the 124 suppression personnel, 12 EMS personnel and 19 support people on the scene.

An investigation was conducted by Lengel, who also is the borough fire marshal, with the Montgomery County Arson Fraud Unit, Pennsylvania State Police Fire Marshal’s Division, Pottstown Police Department and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), but the cause of the fire remains undetermined. Damage was estimated at over $1 million.


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.