$200,000 Upper Darby Bank Fire
SMOKE WAS DISCOVERED issuing from the First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Upper Darby, Pa., on April 16 last at 6:35 a.m., by a cruising police patrol car. The Upper Darby Township Fire Department was immediately notified by radio. First alarm response consisted of Engine Companies 3 and 4, with one 500 gpm, one 750-gpm, two 1000gpm and one 1250-gpm pumpers; Ladder Companies 3 and 4 with one 85-foot service aerial and one 85-foot tractoraerial; and Rescue 4, under the command of Chief Harry W. Alger, Jr.
The building, 50 x 150 feet, constructed of Indiana limestone and marble facade ranging from two stories on the north end to three on the south, with a slag roof, had been completely remodeled in 1954 at a cost of $400,000. The structure is located in the high value district directly opposite a new $10,000,000 Gimbel Brothers department store.
The first arriving fire fighters found evidence of a serious fire in progress with the building being heavily charged with smoke. Engine 4, a 1000 gpm-pumper, stretched a 2 1/2 -inch line from a hydrant and wyed off to two 1 1/2-inch lines. Initial opening was made from Ladder 3 on the top floor of the north side of the building, while Engine 3, a 1250-gpm pumper, connected to a hydrant diagonally across the street from the fire. Engine 3’s 1000gpm pumper stretched in another 2 1/2inch line from the hydrant in use to Ladder 4, whose aerial was raised to the roof on the west side and two 1 1/2 -inch lines were advanced. First men on the roof found it to be badly weakened and sagging on the northern end of the building, but no signs of actual flames were visible.
At this point it was determined that the fire was raging in a 2 1/2-foot unprotected false ceiling. Openings were made in the roof in an attempt to cut off the fire and 1 1/2-inch fog streams were applied into the false ceiling area. Simultaneously with the attack being made from the roof and the northern end of the building, a bank official who had been notified at the time of the alarm arrived and opened the heavy plate glass doors, and firemen equipped with self-contained breathing apparatus entered the main floor and began ventilating that area and spreading salvage covers over expensive calculating machines and other office equipment.
Being unable to check the advance of the fire through the loft area, a second alarm was dispatched by radio at 7:10 a.m., bringing Engine 2, with two 750gpm pumpers and Ladder 2, with a 65foot service aerial. Engine 2 stretched a 2 1/2-inch line and advanced into the upper floor of the building by way of the main staircase. A special call was also put in at this time for Engine 1, self-contained breathing apparatus and the Fire Department ambulance.
Due to the fire having broken through the weakened sections of the roof and the complete collapse of a 25 x 25-foot section of the roof at the northwest comer of the building, a 2 1/2-inch line equipped with a fog cellar nozzle was advanced to the lateral spread of the blaze. Ladder 2’s aerial was placed at the rear of the building out of the immediate fire area, if a retreat were necessary from the roof.
After the cellar nozzle had been in operation for a period of approximately 15 minutes, this area became so heavily involved that it was necessary to withdraw this unit to a position farther back on the roof. Shortly after the removal of the cellar nozzle, the roof in that area collapsed into the Board of Directors room, which was the most lavishly decorated in the building, its furnishings valued at $10,000.
While this new roof attack was in progress, the hose crews working inside were successful in removing portions of the ceiling so that the fire area was exposed. With this coordinated attack pattern, Chief Alger was able to declare the fire under control at 8:20 a.m.
Immediately following control of the fire, fire fighters began an extensive salvage and overhaul operation which included removal of debris from the fire area and water from the entire building. During this time several minor outbreaks occurred and were quickly extinguished by 1 1/2-inch watch lines.
Investigation disclosed that the fire originated in a television set built into the wall of the employees cafeteria on the upper floor. The set had inadvertently been left in operation since the close of business on the previous day. The transformer short-circuited causing the fire to spread through the wall and mushroom out under the false ceiling. Despite the modern construction of the building, the complete lack of fire stops was the contributing factor to tlie rapid spread of the fire, allowing it to travel freely and go undetected for quite some time.
The bank was able to resume business operations the following day due to the salvage work of the fire department, a private contractor who immediately moved in men and equipment, a builder who made emergency structural repairs, the bank employees and many others who worked untiringly through the night.
Bank officials were lavish in their praise of the work done by the fire department, stating that had their business machines been damaged they would have been unable to resume business for quite some time. Actual fire damage was confined to the upper floor containing the Board of Directors room, employees cafeteria and kitchen and the mortgage department. No fire damage was incurred in the savings department and vault area on the ground floor.
Fire Marshal Paul W. Bates of Upper Darby Township, who estimated damage to be $200,000 has been assured by bank officials that the necessary fire stops would be included in the reconstruction of the building. Serious consideration is also being given to the installation of a sprinkler system.
Throughout the fire, the Moyamensing Juniors of Chester, Pa., were on hand dispensing hot coffee and soup to the fire fighters. The last units left at 3:00 p.m.
Ample cover up was available during the fire with Engine 1, two 750-gpm pumpers; Ladder 1, 85-foot service aerial; Rescue 1; and Engine 5, 750-gpm pumper, remaining in their stations; also a pre-arranged mutual aid plan could have been activated if needed.
—The Evening Bulletin, Philadelphia, photo