Pa. Fire Chief Collapses at Eight-Alarm Structure Fire

A volunteer fire chief suffered an apparant fatal heart attack while operating at the scene of an eight-alarm structure fire in a southwest suburb of Pittsburgh Saturday morning.


A volunteer fire chief suffered an apparant fatal heart attack while operating at the scene of an eight-alarm structure fire in a southwest suburb of Pittsburgh Saturday morning.

Heidelberg Volunteer Fire Department Chief Henry Wissel was pulling equipment out of a fire truck,when he collapsed, WPXI television reported. Fire officials said he was taken to Saint Clair Hospital by Scott Township EMS where he was pronounced dead.

The first alarm sounded at about 7:40 a.m. for a structure fire at L. Thomas Towing, a large building approximately a half-block long in Heidelberg, local firefighters told Firehouse.com.

A third alarm was struck immediately on arrival and as those units were arriving, a message was broadcast for a firefighter down in the street, firefighters said. Wissel was in cardiac arrest and transported immediately.

Everyone knew Heidelberg Volunteer Fire Department Chief Henry James Wissel as "HJ" and within the last few weeks the department had made him Chief. Along with his younger brother Mike, who had previously been chief, HJ fought fires beside his son Jimmy, who also responded to Saturday's blaze.

Wissel, 55, worked for a local area firm, Reichold Chemical. With his wife Maxine, they had two sons and two daughters.

Borough Council President Raymond Losego, who arrived at the fire early on, said the firefighters did everything they could to save Wissel.

The fire was well involved before the first trucks arrived. Losego said the primary area on fire was a building housing as many as ten tow trucks. A large wood framed apartment building nearby was also consumed.

According to FF/EMT Rowene Selva, there are about 12 active members on the department roster. Heidelberg Borough is about 20 miles southwest of Pittsburgh.

The blaze went to eight alarms and was declared under control shortly after Noon. The fire is under investigation by teh Alleghany County Fire Marshal's Office.

Viewing will be from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday at the Leo J. Henney Funeral Home, 323 Second Avenue, in Carnegie, Pa. Funeral services will be held at the home at 10 a.m. Wednesday.