Delayed-Alarm Fire Is Confined To Top Floor of 4-Story Hotel

Delayed-Alarm Fire Is Confined To Top Floor of 4-Story Hotel

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Fire was held to the top floor of an old, four-story hotel by the Waynesboro, Pa., Fire Department despite a delayed alarm and icy working conditions in a 6-degree temperature.

At 2:00 a.m. last December 3, the desk clerk at the Anthony Wayne Hotel, which was built in 1888 and remodeled in 1924, smelled burning insulation. He immediately started to search for the source of the odor.

When the desk clerk reached the fourth floor, he saw some smoke and heard a crackling at the hallway electrical switch panel near the front of the building. He applied the contents from a fire extinguisher without success. It was now 2:15 a.m. and he started notifying the occupants of the fourth floor.

With the help of some of these people, further futile attempts were made to extinguish the fire at the electric panel, which by now had progressed to a ceiling ventilator fan above the electrical panel. At 2:30 a.m., a phone call was belatedly made to the Waynesboro Fire Department. The alarm was sounded and a 65-foot aerial ladder and two pumpers responded.

Flames through roof

Chief Merle K. Biser was on the first apparatus to arrive and he noticed 10 to 12-foot flames bursting through the roof in the center front of the building. He immediately set the ladder into operation in front of the building and ordered the two pumpers to lay 4-inch hose to the nearest hydrants. The Waynesboro Fire Department had been without a deputy chief or an assistant chief because of resignations and this caused additional duties to fall on the company officers, two captains and two lieutenants.

Captain Don M. Ringer of the Always There Hook and Ladder Company, the second officer on the scene, put in the second alarm by radio and called for mutual aid from the Greencastle and Hagerstown Fire Departments.

Two 2 1/2-inch lines from a Waynesboro Fire Department pumper were stretched to the fourth floor from the front entrance, and two 2 1/2-inch lines were laid to the 3-inch hose feeding the Waynesboro truck’s ladder pipe. Two 2 1/2-inch lines were laid from a Waynesboro 1000-gpm pumper and additional 1 1/2-inch hose was removed from a Waynesboro 750-gpm pumper to assist the lines laid up the rear of the building to the roof by means of the enclosed fire escape.

Another fire occurs

Additional calls for mutual aid were sent to the Mont Alto and Chambersburg Fire Departments and a special call placed Franklin County’s air cascade service unit in operation.

Fifteen minutes after receiving the hotel alarm, a call was received by the Waynesboro Fire Department for a dwelling fire east of Waynesboro. A 750-gpm pumper and a 1500-gallon tanker of the Waynesboro Fire Department, along with two apparatus of the Blue Ridge Summit Fire Department, responded. Mont Alto also responded directly to this fire while traveling to stand by in Waynesboro. The two dwelling occupants received burns of the hands and other parts of the body and were treated and transported to the Waynesboro Hospital by crews of the Always There Ambulance Squad.

The Mont Alto Fire Department was placed on standby at the South Potomac Street Fire Station.

Ladder put in operation

The Hagerstown Fire Department responded to the hotel fire with Truck 4 and placed its ladder in operation on the east side of the hotel. A Greencastle pumper at a hydrant in the rear of the hotel supplied water to the truck. Two 2 1/2-inch lines were placed into service on the roof to prevent further extension of the fire. These actions were under the command of a captain of the Waynesboro Fire Department and the Hagerstown battalion chief.

Captain Randy Beamer of the Mechanics Steam Fire Engine and Hose Company of Waynesboro Fire Department and two lieutenants, George Bailey, A.T.H. & L. Co., and Bob Reynolds, M.S.F.E. & H. Co., were in charge of operations inside the building. Additional hand lines (1 1/2 and 2 1/2-inch) were laid from the Waynesboro Fire Department 1000-gpm pumper in front of the building.

All hotel residents were safely evacuated. One resident with a suspected heart seizure was treated by the fire department ambulance squad and taken to Waynesboro Hospital.

Fire damage on top floor of Anthony Wayne Hotel

Photo by David id Scott Smith, public Opinion.

Roof collapse at front of hotel is where large sign, part of which is visible, and air conditioners Were located

Photo by Kenneth L. Peiffer, Jr., Record Herald.

When the Chambersburg Fire Department arrived, its 85-foot ladder, platform-equipped, went into operation west of the Waynesboro truck. Two 2 1/2-inch lines from the Waynesboro 1000-gpm pumper supplied the Chambersburg ladder pipe.

Biser, in command of the entire operation, requested additional air for the many masks being used by the fire fighters on the fourth floor and roof. William Sturdivant, Franklin County civil defense director, who is charge of the Franklin County air cascade unit, requested additional air from Washington County, Md., which dispatched the Halfway Maryland Fire Department air unit.

Five volunteer firemen of the Fayetteville Fire Department offered their assistance and were sent to the roof.

Fire extends to cockloft

The fire had progressed from the ventilator fan to the cockloft of the top floor and had burned to the front of the building, extending toward both sides. Fire fighters opened up the roof between rafters which ran to the sides of the building and found no fire extension to the rear. A fire partition prevented the fire from spreading to the rear inside, but this did not prevent fire extension on the roof, which had a tongue and groove wood deck covered by tarswabbed roofing paper and finished with small stones.

The hotel, built in 1888, was typical of the commercial construction of this period. The roof deck was supported by wooden rafters with steel I-beams reinforcing them. A large neon hotel sign was on the front of the east side roof and air conditioner units were on the front of the west side roof, 30 feet back. The elevator shaft was also on the west side, which caused further concern for the officers in charge.

The fire had extended to the suitetype front rooms on the fourth floor. These were used by the Waynesboro Manufacturers Association and were not occupied at the time of the fire. The only exposure was a three-story brick building to the west with a 30-foot yard between the two buildings.

Fire fighters entering the top floor were met with smoke and heat from the fire in the cockloft and due to this condition, the use of breathing apparatus was mandatory.

Importance of radios

Communications were estahished between officers inside the hotel and officers on the roof, and ladder pipes were used so as to prevent water streams from conflicting with operations inside. During this time, the Waynesboro truck became ice-coated and impossible to maneuver.

At the height of the blaze, the Waynesboro officer on the Chambersburg truck noticed the hotel sign starting to give way. He immediately ordered all fire fighters in the front rooms to move back. Bailey moved the fire fighters back and directed that a hole be cut through the wall in the hallway to the west side front room to ensure an escape route for the fire fighters. A large air-conditioner unit on the roof later fell into this room.

After the hotel sign fell through the roof to the floor of the east front room, fire fighters were permitted to reenter the front area and extinguish the fire.

After the fire was declared under control at 7:32 a.m., the Waynesboro chief ordered that all combusible material. such as upholstered type furniture, burned drapery material and partially burned wood lathe, be removed from the two front rooms. At no time did the fire burn to the rear of the building or burn down to the third floor.

The most important lesson to be learned from this fire is that the importance of communications between the officers on the roof and officers inside cannot be overemphasized. Because of the large volume of fire in evidence on the roof and the smoke and heat generated within the building, the use of walkie-talkies is necessary to prevent one fire crew from endangering another with hose streams.

Another important fact is that people who discover a fire or indications of a fire must immediately call the fire department.

Other lessons we learned were:

  1. When fire fighting forces are confronted with operations at multiple alarms, there should be no delay in mutual aid calls to provide companies to respond to other alarms in the community.
  2. Adequate water supply is necessary to have an effective means of preventing extension of fire.
  3. Water supply is needed close to the fireground for use by incoming mutual aid fire departments.
  4. Due to the fact that breathing apparatus air supply starts to deplete in 20 minutes, a staging area near the fire should be set up immediately and a line officer should be placed in charge. All spare cylinders on apparatus should be collected and moved to the staging area prior to the arrival of a compressed air cascade unit.
  5. Early reports from line officers with walkie-talkies are essential for proper size-up in situations similar to those encountered at this fire, where the fire was not visible and access to the fire areas was limited.
  6. Floor area diagrams should be posted at the main entrance to the building to assist occupants as well as the first-arriving fire units.
  7. Proper equipment worn by fire fighters averted any serious personal injuries.

It was the concentrated effort of all fire fighters of all fire departments which contained this fire to the fourth floor and confined injuries to only one fighter, who required first aid when he slipped on an icy ground ladder.

The chief of the Waynesboro Fire Department expressed his views at the annual banquet held the Monday after the fire when he thanked every fire fighter and fire department that participated for a job well done.

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