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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Companies stretched lines into the fire building and the exposures, then began opening up and ventilating. Crews were making progress but with the heavy amount of fire in the three dwellings,and the need for relief personnel, Chief of Department William H. Rehr III transmitted the third alarm at 1:46 P.M.

As crews were gaining control of the fire, the chauffeur of Rescue 1 radioed that he had fallen through the fire weakened roof up to his waist and was attempting to extricate himself. The firefighter was extricated from the hole and removed to the street by Snorkel 1's bucket. He was taken to a local hospital and treated for a back injury. The seven engines, three aerials and one heavy rescue company on the scene brought the fire under control at 2:30 P.M. The fire left 17 occupants of the three buildings homeless and caused in excess of $60,000 in damage. The fire appears to have been started by cigarette ashes igniting a sofa in the building of origin.

Oct. 10, 9:49 A.M. - 746 North 9th St. Once again, units responded to a structure fire in the city's outlet district. The fire was discovered by a police officer. Units arrived on the scene in two minutes and found fire showing from the rear of the three-story mixed-occupancy building. The fire, which began in the basement, had spread to the first floor, which housed a hosiery outlet shop, and was venting from rear windows.

An attack line was stretched to the rear to protect exposures as additional lines were preparing to make entry through the front. As the front plate-glass door and window were vented, heavy smoke rolled from the first floor. Quick work by the companies prevented the fire from "lighting up" or spreading further. The fire was knocked down and placed under control at 10:27.

The fire caused $75,000 damage to the building, which was unoccupied at the time of the fire. Two firefighters received minor burns and were treated at the scene. The blaze has been labeled suspicious and is still under investigation.

Oct. 15, 7:18 P.M. - 1343 North 10th St. At 6 P.M., members of the B platoon reported for their last of three night tours, which by morning would turn out to be a long one. A box alarm was transmitted at 7:18 P.M. for a dwelling fire at 1343 North 10th St. First-due Engine 9 found a medium smoke condition on the first floor of a three-story rowhouse. A victim with burn injuries was located outside.

A working fire was transmitted by Engine 9 and a 13/4-inch handline was stretched but it would not need to be charged. The flash fire in the kitchen, touched off by the victim cleaning paint brushes with a flammable liquid near the stove, had almost burned itself out. The remaining fire and the fire was placed under control at 7:26 P.M. The burned occupant was transported to a hospital in critical condition with second- and third-degree burns over 40% of his body. He was subsequently transferred to a trauma center for treatment.

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Photo by Scot Lyons
Oct. 30, 1997 - Firefighter Quentin Englehart of Engine 9 stretches an attack line between two rowhouses to attack the fully involved garage at 542 Mulberry St. The fire was quickly brought under control but not before it had damaged three other buildings and temporarily displaced three people.

Oct. 15, 8:10 P.M. - Eisen-hower Apartments, 835 Frank-lin St. Shortly after units had cleared the box on 10th Street and had gone in quarters, a box alarm was transmitted for a fire at the Eisenhower Apartments, 835 Franklin St., a 15-story Reading Housing Authority residence for elderly and low-income residents.

First-due Engine 1 and Snorkel 1 were all too familiar with the address - they respond to nearly 100 automatic alarms per year at the address; most of the alarms are triggered by cooking or unattended food on the stove. Tonight would be different, though, as the two 911 calls preceding the alarm notification from the central station would spur the communications center to transmit a full box assignment instead of the normal "one and one" to the building.

Deputy Chief Steve Orlosky arrived with the first-due engine and ladder at 8:12 and proceeded to the alarm panel in the lobby. With numerous alarms showing on the panel, a large number of occupants in the lobby and a verbal report of a fire in a ninth-floor apartment, Orlosky transmitted the second alarm at 8:15.