Pa. Firefighter Burned in Three-Alarm Apartment Blaze

A Reading woman and a city firefighter suffered burns during a three-alarm blaze in a four-story apartment building at Ninth and Walnut streets Wednesday morning.

The woman lived in a fourth-floor apartment where the fire began and was injured trying to put the fire out herself, First Deputy Chief Gary Mogel said.

Police and firefighters responded to the 3:45 a.m. alarm and found the woman lying on the sidewalk against a storefront next to the apartment building at 156 N. Ninth St., which contains at least 10 apartments, Mogel said. Flames were venting out the windows of the fourth-floor northeast apartment.

Other residents of the 10- to 15-unit building were gathered across the street when fire trucks rolled up, he said. They will not be able to return to the building until repairs are made. They are being assisted by the American Red Cross, Berks County Chapter.

Firefighters are searching the apartments for other victims. Officials were unable to account for two people who resided in the apartment with the woman, who was placed in an ambulance and later flown to the burn unit of Lehigh Valley Hospital, near Allentown, he said.

Information on her medical condition was unavailable.

City fire Lt. Thomas Rehr suffered first-degree burns to a shoulder while battling flames and searching for occupants on the fourth floor, Mogel said. He was taken to Reading Hospital for treatment.

It took more than three hours for crews from a half-dozen companies, including all 18 on-duty city firefighters and volunteers from suburban departments, to control the flames, which ran the length of the building in the hollow space under the rubber roof.

Crews were hamstrung because there was no standpipe to which to attach fire hoses in the building, Mogel said. They had to manually drag two large fire hoses to the fourth floor, which gave the fire enough time to extend to the roof

"There was no getting ahead of it at that point," Mogel said.

The 100 block of North Ninth Street and 800 block of Walnut Street remain closed.

Copyright 2012 - Reading Eagle, Pa.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service