On The Job - Pennsylvania

Thomas Rehr reports on a rash of multiple alarm fires that damaged or destroyed numerous buildings, injured firefighters and civilians, and left dozens of people homeless.


City of Reading Department of Fire & Rescue Services Chief William H. Rehr III Personnel: 153 career firefighters Apparatus: Seven engines, three aerials, one heavy rescue Population: 80,000 Area: 9.9 square miles While many departments entered October 1997 with Fire Prevention...


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City of Reading Department of Fire & Rescue Services
Chief William H. Rehr III
Personnel: 153 career firefighters
Apparatus: Seven engines, three aerials, one heavy rescue
Population: 80,000
Area: 9.9 square miles

While many departments entered October 1997 with Fire Prevention Week in mind, Reading, PA, firefighters began the month with a two-alarm fire. Before the month was over, Reading firefighters would battle three more multiple-alarm fires and the numerous "working fires" that made October 1997 one of the busiest months in the city.

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Photo by David J. Reimer
Oct. 1, 1997 - Firefighter Daniel Wade of Ladder 3 is silhouetted by fire venting through the roof during a two-alarm blaze at 901 North 9th St. This was the first of two blazes to strike within 10 days in Reading's outlet district. This three-story structure housed a pizzeria on the ground floor that had just opened for business. The unoccupied second and third floors contained construction materials being used for renovations.

This is a compilation of incidents that damaged or destroyed buildings, injured firefighters and civilians, and left dozens of people homeless.

Oct. 1, 3:13 A.M. - 901 North 9th St. Companies were dispatched for a reported structure fire in the area of 9th and Windsor streets. This would be the first of two fires to heavily damage buildings in the city's outlet district within 10 days. The three-story building was undergoing renovations and housed a pizzeria on the first floor that had recently opened for business. The second and third floors were unoccupied and contained construction materials being used for the renovations.

First-in Engine 9 reported "fire showing." Fire was venting from the second-floor rear windows of the building along Windsor Street and had already burned through the electric feed line, which dropped onto the street, and heavy smoke was pushing from the third floor. There was only one means of access to the upper floors - rear exterior stairs that entered the second floor at the area of origin. At 3:21, Deputy Chief George Kellenberger, the incident commander, ordered the next-due aerial, Snorkel 1, dispatched to the scene.

Interior crews were making progress on the second floor with handlines when Deputy Chief Paul Hofmann, the interior command officer, reported that the floor was giving way in the room adjacent to the stairs. About the same time, exterior crews reported fire through the roof of the second-floor setback. Units were withdrawn to set up a defensive attack and Kellenberger ordered a second alarm at 3:37.

The fire was darkened down in about 20 minutes by two master-stream devices and the handlines that had been backed out of the building. With the fire knocked down and visibility improving, a cautious interior attack resumed. Handlines were advanced into the upper floors via ground ladders. Crews had the fire under control at 4:37 A.M.

When the smoke cleared, it was evident that the fire had been burning for awhile undetected. Fire had burned down through the second floor as well as through the roof, and interior walls had burned through and failed. The fire is still under investigation and caused $60,000 in damage.

Oct. 3, 1:10 P.M. - 930-32-34 Buttonwood St. A box alarm was transmitted for a structure fire in the 900 block of Buttonwood Street. Responding on the box from the quarters of Rescue 1 downtown about a 11/2 miles away, Deputy Chief John Sands reported "smoke showing." Units arrived two minutes later and reported a 21/2-story rowhouse heavily involved, with fire showing from the front of the building. At 1:15, with first-alarm companies in service and exposures 2 and 4 becoming involved, Deputy Chief Michael Moyer transmitted a second alarm.

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Photo by Thomas Rehr
Oct. 10, 1997 - Despite the heavy smoke condition present, firefighters made short work of the fire involving the basement and first floor. The fire caused $75,000 in damage.
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