Just before midnight on Sunday May 12th the Pottsville Fire Department was dispatched for a possible structure fire with entrapment at 231 Pierce Street (incident address was actually 235 Pierce but the caller could not see an address so they used the neighbors address). Pottsville Police arrived on scene first and relayed to the dispatch center that the home was well involved and there were reports of multiple people unaccounted for. Assistant Fire Chief Mike Messner (P5) was the duty officer for the weekend and was the first fire officer to arrive on scene. P5 confirmed a working structure fire, and requested Schuylkill Haven RIT be dispatched. The structure was a 3 story single family dwelling, with an exposure close on side D. Heavy fire was visible from division 2 on Side C, with heavy black smoke pushing from division 3 on side D and from divisions 2 and 3 on Side A.
Engine 11 (Good Intent) was the first apparatus on scene and they setup fire attack on side A of the structure. Ladder 51 (West End) approached from the West coming down Pierce Street and setting up on the A/D corner, Ladder 21 (Phoenix) was positioned behind E-11. Engine 71 (American Hose) took the hydrant at 2nd and Pierce and fed Engine 41 (Good Will) who was positioned behind L-21, E-41 fed E-11. Engine 32 (Humane) took the hydrant at 4th and Pierce and fed L-51 and E-11 as well. Engine 62 (Yorkville) worked their way into the very tight alley behind the structure to setup operations on side C. P5 was the IC, P2 (Witmier) was the Operations Chief, P3 (Stefnic) was interior command, and P6 (Misstishin) was Safety Officer of the incident.
A 2” attack line was stretched from E-11 to Side C of the structure for an initial attack on division 2, as well as a 1-3/4” attack line to division 1 on side A. E-41 stretched a 1-3/4” attack line for exposure protection while L-51 crew made entry into exposure D to check for extension. A crew from L-21 and E-62 attempted entry to division 3 from Side C of the structure. Crews on division 2 and 3 were met with a very large volume of fire immediately and were unable to make entry deep into the structure. The crew on division 2 reported issues with the floor as holes were forming rapidly and P2 ordered an evacuation of the structure and that a defensive operation be setup.
P5 called for a second alarm to staff the city and for some units to assist with secondary water sources. Port Carbon (E59-11) took the hydrant at 4th and Mahantongo and fed the long 5” line that was laid up to the scene by Schuylkill Haven (E-732). Units from Palo Alto setup a feed from the East by taking the hydrant at Union and Centre and laying up to E-71.
Once the secondary water source was established, the main body of fire was quickly knocked down, and interior operations resumed as the fire was brought under control. Despite the best efforts of the Police Department and Fire Department, six lives were lost as the residents in the home at the time of the fire were unable to evacuate, one resident survived who was not home at the time of the incident. The fire destroyed the 3-story home, but only caused minor damage to the exposure on side D.
It is with a heavy heart that this incident is posted on our website, this incident was the largest loss of life cause by fire in the history of the Pottsville Fire Department, and one of the largest in the history of Schuylkill County. The fire is still under investigation at this time. Narritive by P2 (Witmier) & Pictures and Videos courtesy of Fire & Film