On the Job - Pennsylvania: Fire Strikes Downtown Gettysburg

May 1, 2004
Gary E. Frederick reports on an apartment building fire at which firefighters faced frigid temperatures hovering around 10 degrees and dangerously close exposures.
On Saturday, Jan. 31, 2004, with the temperature hovering around 10 degrees, the Adams County, PA, Emergency Communications Center received a call at 5:43 A.M. reporting a fire in an apartment building at 114 Chambersburg St. (U.S. Route 30) just west of the square in Gettysburg.
Photos courtesy of Darryl Wheeler/Gettysburg Times Initial operations with fire building and fire already extended into exposure side B.
Chief: Albert KnerrPersonneL: 50 volunteer firefightersApparatus: Two engines, one truck, one quint, one medium rescue, one hose wagon, one air truck, two BLS ambulancesPopulation: 20,000Area: 100 square miles

Box 1 was dispatched at 5:45, assigning Gettysburg Fire Department units Engines 1-2, 1-3, Quint 1 (a 75- foot aerial), Truck 1 (a 100-foot rear mount) and Ambulance 1A1 to the call. First arriving on the scene was Gettysburg Police Officer Brian Weikert, who immediately reported a working fire in progress and all occupants were reported out of the building.

Chief 1 Albert Knerr arrived in his vehicle and assumed command. Knerr requested a second alarm immediately. Quint 1, the first-responding fire unit, arrived on the scene at 5:51 with Deputy Chief David Blocher and six firefighters. The quint laid a five-inch hoseline from the hydrant on the northwest corner of Chambersburg and Washington Street, taking a position in front of 116 Chambersburg St., just west of the fire building, and Blocher was placed in charge of operations.

Arriving in quick order were Engine 1-2 with five personnel and which laid a five-inch line from the southwest corner of Washington and Middle Streets taking a position in the rear. Truck 1 arrived with four personnel, took a position in front of 112 Chambersburg St., just east of the fire building, and placed its aerial ladder in service. Engine 1-3 arrived and was staged at Washington and Chambersburg Streets, sending its five personnel to the scene. Ambulance 1A1 also arrived.

Photos courtesy of Darryl Wheeler/Gettysburg Times Fire having extended to Exposure B, an interior attack is underway in that building as Chief 1 directs via radio.

The three-story brick apartment building, measuring 30 by 60 feet, was well involved with fire showing on the first- and second-floor front and sides. There was extension to the second floor of exposure B, a three-story brick building occupied as the Ragged Edge Coffee Shop with apartments on the second and third floors, located five feet east of the fire building. Exposure D, a 21?2-story frame pre-Civil War building occupied as a dwelling, was located one foot from the fire building. Exposure C, a three-story concrete-block apartment building called the Agape House, was located at the rear of the fire building.

Since the second-alarm companies were located some distance away from the Gettysburg Borough, initial operations for over the first 20 minutes were conducted by the first alarm. The initial attack was made utilizing the 75-foot pre-piped waterway on Quint 1 to protect side D. Handlines were established inside the west exposure dwelling, from the second floor of the east exposure, and with a 21?2-inch handline between exposures on both the east and west sides. In the rear, Engine 1-2 stretched a 21?2-inch line to the rear (south side) of the fire building and operating there as well as the east exposure. A second 21?2-inch line was taken to the roof of the block apartment building immediately to the rear of the fire building and operated from that point. At this time, the manpower from Gettysburg Fire Department was 25 to 30 personnel.

Dispatched on the second alarm at 6:05 were Engine 20-1 (Littlestown), Engine 13-1 (New Oxford) and Engine 6-1 (Biglerville). Engine 20-1 laid a five-inch hoseline from the hydrant on the northwestern side of the square and proceeded to Washington and Chambersburg Street, where the unit supplied the ladder pipe of Truck 1 and handlines, one of which was taken into the coffee shop exposure. Engine 13-1 was directed to assist in the rear and laid a five-inch hoseline from hydrant located on the corner of Middle and Franklin Streets to a position to the west of the fire scene and advanced handlines. Engine 6-1 was placed in a staging area created on Chambersburg Street one block east of the fire with manpower reporting to the scene. At 6:19, Engine 4-1 (Cashtown) was dispatched to lay another five-inch line from a hydrant located at Spring and Bufort Avenues to Quint 1 to increase that unit?s water flow.

Photos courtesy of Darryl Wheeler/Gettysburg Times The fire was fought by crews using 11 engines, one quint, one truck, one tower, one rescue, one air unit and four ambulances and approximately 100 personnel.

The next calls for assistance were made at 6:45 for Engine 22-2 (Barlow), Rescue 6 (Biglerville), Ambulance 13A (New Oxford), and Engine/Tanker 16 (Centennial). Engine 22-2 staged at Middle and Washington Streets and Rescue 6 set up triage and rehab in the parking lot directly across from the fire area with access from Washington Street. Rescue 6 and Air 1 (Gettysburg) replenished air bottles. Engine/Tanker 16 first transferred to Station 1 (Gettysburg), then responded to the staging area. Two additional engines were dispatched at 7:05. Engine 25 (Heidelsburg) reported to the staging area and Engine/Rescue 2 (Fairfield) reported to Middle and Franklin Streets. Ambulance 2A (Fairfield) and Ambulance 6A were also dispatched. Engine/Rescue 19 (Bonneauville) was transferred to Station 1.

At 7:25, Tower 5 (Arendtsville), a 65-foot platform, was dispatched and on arrival was placed to the east of Truck 1 and operated on the east side. At this point, Gettysburg had a total of 45 personnel on the scene and this combined with mutual aid response, brought the total to an estimated 100 personnel. Later in the operation, at 9:07, Engine 17-2 (McSherrystown), an engine with a 75-foot aerial, was called to the scene in the rear of the building to assist using a ladder pipe to remove loose bricks from a partially collapsed wall. Also later, Truck 1 was moved from the front to allow Tower 5 to work the building with its platform. At 11:52, Engine/Rescue 19 was sent to the staging area with warm and fresh personnel, since many units had been released.

It was reported that an occupant heard an alarm of some kind after 5 A.M., but did not react to it. Later, upon finally investigating, he heard the first-floor occupant calling to him that the house was on fire. He grabbed his young son and left the building, stating that upon reaching the street he called 911 on his cell phone. The occupants of the first and third floors evacuated the premises on their own. The occupants of the exposures were evacuated safely. The first-floor occupant was treated for minor burns and several firefighters were treated for ice- related injuries. The Adams County Chapter of the American Red Cross assisted the occupants and also those evacuated from the rear apartment building due to gas service being disconnected to the premises.

The original fire building was destroyed to the point that the Pennsylvania State Police Fire Marshal was unable to conduct an investigation. The building at 114 Chambersburg St. sustained heavy fire damage on the third floor and in the attic and some fire damage on the west side of the second floor. The entire structure sustained smoke and water damage. Fire damage to the dwelling on the west side was minimal, however, after the fire department had left the scene. That afternoon, a demolition company removing the west wall caused it to fall on the dwelling, taking out a portion of its roof and front porch.

Photos courtesy of Darryl Wheeler/Gettysburg Times A ladder pipe is used to hit heavy fire in the buildings, which are separated only by a few feet. Heavy smoke and low air temperatures hampered firefighters? efforts.

The fire was declared under control at 10:12 A.M., with the last Gettysburg unit leaving the scene at 1:35 P.M. The destroyed building as well as the Agape House, with six units for needy families, were owned and operated by the Adams County Rescue Mission.

In summary, the fire was fought with 11 engines, one quint, one truck, one tower, one rescue, one air unit, and four ambulances with as already stated approximately 100 personnel. Five units laid five five-inch lines, with three to the front and two to the rear. The borough water supply was more than adequate during the operation. Master streams were utilized from Quint 1, Truck 1, Tower 5 and later Engine 17-2. There is no damage estimate.

Gary E. Frederick will present ?The 1904 Baltimore Fire? at Firehouse Expo 2004 in Baltimore, July 13-18.

Gary E. Frederick is retired assistant chief of the Baltimore City Fire Department, after 37 years service, and now serves as safety officer for the Gettysburg, PA, Fire Department.

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