SCHUYLKILL COUNTY, Pa. – Just after 10 AM on New Year’s Day, Schuylkill County 9-1-1 dispatched a first alarm assignment to 128 Main Street in Gilberton Borough for a reported house fire. The initial alarm included District 44 (Gilberton), Englewood Fire, Shenandoah Ladder 745, District 43 (Frackville) and Mahanoy City West End.
Marshal 44 arrived on scene shortly after dispatch and confirmed a working fire. Smoke and flames were visible from the rear of a two story single family dwelling with an attached single story building on the “B” side, a carport attached on the “C” side and a garage inches away as an exposure on the “D” side.
As first alarm units began to sign on to respond, Marshal 44 requested the second alarm be dispatched. The second alarm included District 45 (Girardville), District 38 (Ashland), Shenandoah Tanker 759 and Mahanoy City RIT.
Engine 44-15 and Englewood Engine 369 were directed to the front of the building to initiate a fire attack. Engine 465 also took the front of the building and secured a water supply from a nearby hydrant. Ladder 43-20 came in and positioned at the A/D corner and set up the stick. Ladder 745 staged to the rear of 43-20.
As crews began to stretch lines to the building and establish a water supply, crews found low water pressure from the municipal system. A tanker task force was dispatched bringing Mahanoy City Good American, District 4 (Butler Township), District 26 (Ryan Township), District 30 (Ringtown Valley) and District 46 (Gordon). Engines from Ryan Township and Shenandoah Heights were also due with the tankers.
Firefighters stretched lines through the front door and the rear of the building from Engine 369 and 44-15. Engine 44-10 and Tower 456 were sent to the rear of the building where an additional line was stretched from the Engine. Girardville Engine 45-10 was sent to the rear to help with the water supply.
A crew from 43-20 ascended their ladder and made it to the roof for vertical ventilation. Interior firefighters knocked down the fire on the first floor and began to move to the second floor.
Smoke continued to poor from the upper floors as firefighters worked to make a hit. Frackville firefighters vented the roof and came back down to ground level. Heavy smoke could be seen venting from the second floor windows until crews began to knock down the fire.
Approximately an hour into the incident, Mahanoy City Chief 455 radioed an urgent message to command that a resident of the home arrived at the scene and ran in to the building. Firefighters were able to follow the individual into the building and had to forcefully remove him from the building. Local police quickly made their way to the back of the building where they tried to walk the resident away but he continued to disruptive and was eventually led away in handcuffs.
Firefighters then continued on working to bring the fire under control. Interior crews were finding fire in the walls and the ceiling and asked for relief by getting more of the roof opened up. A crew from Frackville again went to the roof and began to ventilate.
Fire began to vent from the holes as soon as firefighters opened them up and fire was soon seen overtaking the dormer on the “A” side. Soon after the roof was opened up, Command conversed with units on the “C” side and determined that all firefighters would have to evacuate the building to prepare for a defensive attack.
After the airhorns sounded and all members were accounted for, crews began pouring water onto the building. An exterior line was used on the “D” side while a deck gun from E369 poured water on the “B” side. Ladder 43-20 and Tower 456 began to flow water from the front and the rear, respectively. To ensure adequate water supply, Mahanoy City Chief 450 who was put in charge of tankers, added additional tankers from Hometown, Girardville, Mount Carbon, Lavelle and Nuremberg.
Tankers were filled by Mahanoy City Engine 451 near the Gilberton Coal Company and Shenandoah Heights Engine 881 filled the rest on Herald Road in Shenandoah.
The bulk of the fire began to darken down after a few minutes of the master streams doing their work. Tower 456 broke down and repositioned closer to the house for more effective use. Crews continued to pour water onto the building.
The fire was under control around noon but overhaul would still be needed.
A local church was opened up to bring in displaced residents from the area as well as cold firefighters who were battling the blaze in temperatures below 10 degrees. The American Red Cross and Salvation Army were dispatched to the scene as was Ryan Township EMS for their rehab unit. EMS units from Shenandoah and Frackville were also on scene.
Multiple utility companies were also dispatched to the scene including PPL Electric, PennDOT, Gilberton Streets Crew and the Mahanoy Township Water Authority. A State Police Fire Marshal was requested to the scene.
Units began to be released after noon while the final units were clear of the scene around 4:30 PM.