Explosion, Fire Rip Through Pennsylvania Carpet Outlet

Chief Frank Chisesi
Personnel: 44 career firefighters
Apparatus: Three engines, one reserve engine, one tower ladder, one rescue unit, two chiefs' vehicles and two rescue boats
Population: 28,000
Area: 4.5 square miles

At about 7:30 P.M. on Saturday, Nov. 20, 1993, the City of Easton, PA, Fire Department received several telephone calls reporting an explosion and fire at the Craft Rug Mills on Line Street. The 50,000-square-foot structure, built in 1946, was an L-shaped, one-story building 337 feet by 217 feet, constructed of masonry brick walls with a wooden bowstring truss roof covered with rolled roofing.

Photo by Express Times
A 50,000-square-foot rug mill, housed in an L-shaped structure measuring 337 feet by 217 feet with a bow string roof, burned in Easton, PA.

Engines 2011, 2012 and 2013 and Ladder 2021, an 85-foot tower ladder, were dispatched under the command of Captain Terry Foulk with seven firefighters. Responding units encountered heavy smoke four blocks away. While enroute, the units received a call about an automobile accident with the car rolled over onto its roof. Foulk requested mutual aid from the Wilson Boro Fire Department to respond to the accident scene. Wilson Boro in turn asked the Forks Township Fire Department to respond to the accident with its hydraulic rescue tool.

The Easton crew on first-in Engine 2013 found the entire east side of the building fully involved. Engine 2011 stretched a 300-foot five-inch supply line to Engine 2013, which was positioned on the west side of the structure, from a hydrant on Line Street. These two crews and the crew from Tower 2021 placed a 21/2-inch pre-connect and one 13/4-inch pre-connect into operation in an effort to cut off the fire spread into the showroom section of the building.

At this point, Foulk requested a general alarm to recall all off-duty firefighters and Deputy Chief Gerald Flavelle Jr. to the scene. Engine 2012 laid a 500-foot five-inch supply line from another hydrant on Line Street to the west side of the building. Crews placed a deck gun, two 1 3/4-inch pre-connects and a 2 1/2-inch preconnect into operation. Within five minutes of the firefighters' arrival, a 100-foot section of the building's roof collapsed. Tower 2021 was set up on the west side of the building and supplied by a 100-foot five-inch supply line from Engine 2012. Easton reserve Engine 2014 laid a 500-foot five-inch supply line from a hydrant at Iron and Grant streets and was positioned on the east side of the building. This crew laid 450 feet of three- inch supply line to the east side of the structure to operate its portable monitor.

At 7:46 P.M., before completing the mutual aid assignment at the motor vehicle accident, Wilson Boro responded to the fire scene with two engines and 22 firefighters. Additional mutual aid was requested from the Williams Township Fire Department at 7:59. Engines 2811, 2812, 2814, 2831 and 2841 responded with seven officers and 26 firefighters. These units were staged and their manpower was used for laying and operating hoselines.

Photo by Express Times
A 20- to 25-mph wind fanned the fire throughout the building, which contained a heavy load of carpet and foam padding.

Photo by Express Times
The use of tankers and a drafting site were necessary due to a lack of water in the area. More than 100 firefighters were called to the scene.

Flavelle arrived on the scene at 8 P.M. and took command. The fire was rapidly spreading into the rest of the building due to 20- to 25-mph westerly winds and the heavy fire load of carpet and foam padding stored in the building. With water pressure on the hydrants becoming very low, Flavelle requested mutual aid tankers to respond.

Photo by Express Times
Firefighters were hampered in establishing an adequate water supply.

Tanker 42 a 3,000-gallon tanker from Riegelsville Community Fire Company 1, and Tanker 6231, a 2,100-gallon tanker from Southeastern Fire Company, responded at 8:34. A dump site was established on the east side of the building with two portable tanks. Williams Township Engine 2812 drafted out of the portable tanks and supplied Easton Engine 2014 with two three-inch supply lines. Williams Township Engine 2811 was positioned on the north side of the building. Crews hand-laid a 200 foot 21/2-inch supply line through a wooded area to the fire and wyed it off into two 1 3/4-inch handlines to attack the fire. This pumper was supplied by a 400-foot 2 1/2-inch line and a 400-foot three-inch line from Easton Engine 2014.

At 9:32 P.M., additional mutual aid was requested. Forks Township Fire Company responded with two engines with seven firefighters. Forks Township Engine 2513 established a draft site out of the Lehigh River on Larry Holmes Drive to refill tankers. Tanker operations lasted for two hours. East Lawn Fire Company responded with Tanker 500A, a 2,600-gallon tanker, and three firefighters. Hecktown Fire Company responded with Tanker 5331, a 3,000-gallon tanker, and a crew of four.

Not being able to establish an adequate water supply, firefighters were limited in the size and number of lines that could be used. Six 1 3/4-inch lines, two 2 1/2-inch lines, three deluge guns and one aerial master stream brought the fire under control at 11:17 P.M.

Flavelle began releasing mutual aid departments at 12:30 A.M. Sunday. Easton units started picking up at 2:47. The last Easton units left the scene at 8 A.M. but a fire watch was continued for an additional 24 hours. Over 100 firefighters battled the blaze in 40-degree weather. Several small fires caused by flying embers were reported at homes in the area but none of these fires caused major damage.

Craft Rug Mills was destroyed, with damage estimated at over $2 million. The fire was ruled suspicious by investigators.

Ironically, in March 1969, when Flavelle was a rookie firefighter, a fire was reported at the Craft Rug Mills, then on North 4th Street. The five-story brick building, used for carpet manufacturing, was destroyed. The only difference this time was, instead of being a rookie, Flavelle was in command.

Jay K. Bradish, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a former captain in the Bradford Township, PA, Fire Department. He has been a volunteer firefighter and fire photographer for 22 years.