Fatal Fire Extinguished With 1 1/4-Mile Relay of 5-Inch Hose
—photos courtesy Weiisboro, Pa , Fire Dept.
A stubborn fire in Wellsboro, Pa., was finally extinguished after fire fighters set up a 1 ¼ -mile relay of 5-inch hose. The hour-long evolution had been planned but never practiced because of its magnitude. Three persons died in the fire, which was fought by 200 mutual aid fire fighters who responded from as far away as 55 miles.
The Tioga County communications center received a report of fire at the Lamplighter Inn on Main St. at 3:31 a.m. on Aug. 29, 1980, and dispatched immediately. The 105-year-old structure was a three-story wood-frame building, 60 by 110 feet, with a brick veneer facing. There were few fire stops, and numerous renovations gave many avenues for rapid fire spread. Some of the residents had smoke alarms in their rooms, but the building had no automatic alarm or sprinkler system.
One minute later a Weiisboro police officer drove by the building and reported the rear door had just blown out and there was a lot of fire and heavy smoke. Fire Chief John E. Dugan and First Assistant Chief Robert Saylor arrived one minute after that. Dugan was informed that the downstairs bar had been closed at 1 a.m., but that eight people lived on the second floor and 12 lived on the third floor. Most of the occupants of these two floors were either elderly or handicapped or both.
Engines 1-11 and 1-22, both 1000-gpm pumpers, arrived on the scene at 3:35 along with Second Assistant Chief Mike Wood. As planned, Engine 1-11 was positioned on Main St. in front of the inn and hooked onto a hydrant at the corner of Main and Central with a 5-inch supply line. Engine 1-22 was positioned on Central Ave. and also hooked onto a hydrant with a 5-inch supply line.
Next in was Aerial 1-9, a 75-foot aerial. This unit was positioned on Central Ave. and crews started ventilation operations along the side of the building.
Engines 1-12 and 1-21, both 1000-gpm pumpers also responded. Engine 1-12 took a hydrant at the intersection of Main and Crafton and laid a 5-inch supply line down Crafton to the bank parking lot. Engine 1-21 was positioned at Main and Central and hooked onto a hydrant with a 5-inch line. Also responding on the first alarm was a minipumper and an ambulance, designated 1-14 and 1-16. Dugan established a command post at the corner of Main and Central.
Quick second, third alarm
Dugan’s size-up indicated that due to the life hazard and heavy fire conditions that a second alarm from Weiisboro was needed. At 3:36 he requested this, immediately followed by a third alarm which brought mutual aid from Mansfield, Blossburg, Tioga, Middleberry, Morris and Galeton Volunteer Fire Departments.
Wellsboro’s second-alarm response included Engines 1-31 and 1-23, both 1000-gpm pumpers; Engines 1-3 and 1-1, both 750-gpm pumpers; Rescue Squad 1-18 and Ambulances 1-6 and 1-7.
Attack crews donned SCBA and stretched l 3/4-inch preconnected lines into the front and side of the structure from Engines 1-11 and 1-21. Fire fighters advanced inside on the first floor in an attempt to reach the dining room, but intense heat and dense black smoke prevented these crews from getting to the seat of the fire.
The front of the building was laddered with various ground ladders while additional l 3/4-inch preconnected lines were advanced to protect the search and rescue crews. Crews from Engine 1-22 advanced two 2 ½-inch preconnected lines into the rear of the building. Other fire fighters laddered the side and rear of the structure and advanced l 3/4-inch preconnected lines to protect the search and rescue crews in the rear of the building. The use of these attack lines brought valuable time for the rescue crews to assist many occupants from the second and third floors.
Still gaining headway
But reports from crews indicated extreme heat and dense smoke on the upper floors and that the fire was gaining headway. The crew from Engine 1-12 laid a 5-inch line by hand down the alley to Central Ave. and placed a portable hydrant on it.
At 3:51, Middleberry was the first mutual aid company to arrive on the scene. Engine 11-2, a 750-gpm pumper, and Tanker 11-5 were placed on standby in the staging area. Rescue 11-8 was positioned on Main St. and crews donned SCBA and assisted in search and rescue efforts.
Departments from Morris and Mansfield arrived at 3:55. Morris’ Engine 15-1, a 500-gpm pumper was assigned to the staging area. Tanker 15-5 was assigned to Weiisboro Station 1 for standby. Fire fighters from Morris also donned SCBA and participated in the search and rescue operations. Mansfield’s Engine 2-1, a 1000-gpm pumper was positioned at Main and Crafton and hooked onto a hydrant with a hard suction line. Rescue 2-8 was positioned on Main St. and supplied additional SCBA and other equipment.
Galeton Engine 10-2, a 2000-gpm pumper, was assigned to the staging area for standby. Engine 10-3, a 1000-gpm pumper, was positioned in the middle of the block on Main and was supplied by a 5-inch hydrant supply line. Aerial 10-9, a 65-foot aerial was positioned on Main apd set up for ladder pipe operations. This unit was supplied by two 3-inch lines from Engine 10-3. Rescue 10-8 was positioned on Main and supplied SCBA and equipment to Galeton crews.
Tioga’s Engine 7-5, a 750-gpm pumper, was assigned to Station 1 for standby and rescue, while 7-8 was assigned to the fire to supply equipment.
Blossburg’s Engine 4-1, a 750-gpm pumper, Engine 4-3, a 1000-gpm pumper and Ambulance 4-16 were all assigned to the staging area.
Two 3-inch lines were stretched from Engine 1-11 to the Davis Furniture Store and connected to the sprinkler system to pressurize it. Attack lines at the side and rear were knocking down large amounts of fire. Assistant Chief Saylor, who was in charge of the rear and side of the fire, radioed Dugan and advised him they could only get 5 feet inside the building and could not contain the fire.
Search and rescue operations continued on the upper floors even though the fire was spreading rapidly upward through false ceilings, partitions and concealed spaces.
Called more aerial apparatus
At 4:06, Dugan requested additional aerial apparatus to respond to the scene. The Horseheads, N.Y., Volunteer Fire Department, located 55 miles away, responded with Engine 1031, a 55-foot Telesqurt with a 1000-gpm pump. Snorkel 3, a 75-foot elevating platform, was dispatched from the Jersey Shore, Pa., Volunteer Fire Department, 45 miles away. The South Williamsport, Pa., Volunteer Fire Department, 55 miles away, responded with Ladder 11, a 100-foot aerial tower with a 1500-gallon pump, and the Loyalsock Fire Department, 55 miles away, dispatched Tower 18, a 100-foot tower ladder with a 1500-gpm pump. All aerial apparatus was responding by 4:21.
At 4:22, a search and rescue team from the Wellsboro Fire Department on the third floor found Jeffrey Kropp, 28, in a room near the center of the building. Fire fighters dragged the victim to the fire escape and radioed for assistance. The victim was not breathing and CPR was started. Ambulance 1-7 responded to the rear of the building at 4:24 and a Stokes basket was taken up the fire escape. The ambulance crew reported full arrest at 4:32 and arrived at Soldiers and Sailors Hospital in Wellsboro at 4:34. The victim was pronounced dead on arrival from smoke inhalation.
Forced to back out
Dugan reported to the control center at 4:27 that the building was fully involved. At this time he suspended all search and rescue efforts and ordered all men out of the building.
Engine 11-2, which was on standby in the staging area, was positioned two blocks down Main St. and hooked onto a hydrant with a hard suction line. The crew from this engine laddered a building and advanced a 3-inch line to the roof. This line was wyed off into two 1 ½-inch lines that were used to protect the roofs of these buildings from the shower of flying embers. Engine 15-1 was placed one block behind the fire and drafted out of the creek. This engine supplied a supplemental 2 1/2-inch supply line to Engine 1-12 at the rear of the fire.
Fire fighting operations changed to a defensive mode using many portable deluge sets and deck guns.
Aerial 1-9 was repositioned from Central Ave. to the corner of the building at Main and Central. A short time after this was done, the side wall collapsed onto Central. The portable deluge sets were positioned on top of the Davis Furniture Warehouse at the rear of the building. One of these was supplied by two 3-inch lines from Engine 1-22 and the other was supplied by two 3-inch lines from the portable hydrant on the 5-inch supply line at the rear of the building. Two more portable deluge sets were placed on Main St. in front of the inn. One was supplied by Engine 10-3 with a 5-inch supply line, and the other was supplied with two 2 1/2-inch lines from Mansfield Engine 2-1. Two portable deluge sets were positioned on Central Ave. and were supplied by 3inch lines from Engine 1-22 and the portable hydrant. Aerial 1-9 was being supplied by Engine 1-21 and had both the ladder pipe and cab-mounted deluge set in operation. Also both deluge guns on Engine 1-11 were in operation. Galeton’s aerial ladder pipe was also in operation.
Still more water was needed.
Requested large hose
Dugan requested a fifth alarm at 4:39 for pumpers in Lycoming County carrying large-diameter hose, because the municipal water system could only provide 4000 gpm. This would not be a sufficient flow if the fire were to continue down the block. Engine companies from Jersey Shore, South Williamsport and Loyalsock responded on this alarm. A special paramedic team was also dispatched from the Williamsport Hospital in Lycoming County.
At 4:50, Dugan made a special request to the Westfield Volunteer Fire Department for Engine 5-3, a 1250-gpm pumper that carries 1500 feet of 5-inch hose.
The control center received an automatic alarm from the Carlton Nursing Home in Wellsboro at 5:37 a.m. The Tioga Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched from Wellsboro Station 1 where it was on standby, and Morris was dispatched from the fire scene. Arriving companies found smoke in the corridors. After an inspection of the building, however, it was determined that smoke from the fire a quarter-mile away had drifted into the building and set off the smoke detectors. Tioga returned to Station 1 and Morris returned to the fire scene.
More mutual aid arrives
Jersey Shore’s elevating platform arrived at 5:51 and was positioned along the Central Ave. side of the inn. Two 3-inch lines were laid from Engine 1-21 and one 3-inch line was laid from Engine 1-22 to supply this unit. Horseheads’ Telesqurt arrived next and was positioned l>eside the Wellsboro aerial at the intersection. This unit was supplied by two 3-inch lines from Engine 1-21.
South Williamsport’s 100-foot aerial tower was positioned at the rear of the building in the bank parking lot and was supplied with a 5-inch line from Engine 1-12. lx>yalsock’s 100-foot tower ladder was positioned directly in front of the building on Main. This aerial was supplied by a 5-inch line from Engine 1-11. As the additional aerial devices were placed into operation, the deluge sets were shut down in order to supply the volume of water needed for the aerial.
Dugan placed Tioga County Deputy Fire Coordinator Vincent Miller of Galeton in charge of setting up the relay. Wellsboro Engines 1-23, 1-31 and 1-3, which were not committed to fire fighting, were ordered to lay their 5-inch supply line from the fire towards Nessmuk Lake 6500 feet away. These three engines laid over 3000 feet of hose.
Galeton’s Engine 10-2, a 2000-gpm pumper equipped with 6-inch front and side suction, the largest pumper on the fireground, was directed to draft out of the lake. As this engine responded to the lake, it laid its load of 5-inch line as part of the relay.
Westfield’s Engine 5-3, a 1250-gpm pumper, also responded to the lake. This pumper also laid additional hose in the relay. Engine 10-2 drafted with two 6-inch hard suction lines equipped with floating strainers. It supplied one 5inch line and two 3-inch lines into a feeder. Engine 5-3 drafted with one 6-inch hard suction line with a floating strainer and supplied another 5-inch line into the feeder.
Engines 4, a 1000-gpm pumper, and 1-4, a 750-gpm pumper from Jersey Shore; Engine 1-10, a 1500-gpm pumper from South Williamsport and Engine 4-3, a 1000-gpm pumper from Blossburg, all added 5-inch line to the relay.
From the two engines at the lake there were 1700 feet to Engine 4-3, 1600 feet to Engine 4, 1000 feet to Engine 1-4 and another 1700 feet to the last engine, 1-10. From this point there were another 500 feet to a water distributor. Tower Ladder 18 was supplied by a 5inch line, and Engine 1031 (a Telesqurt) was supplied by two 3-inch lines.
Dugan decided to isolate the tower ladder and the Telesqurt using lake water. This water supply could not be hooked onto a pumper that was connected to the municipal water system because of the low water pressure. Lake water could filter into the municipal system and contaminate it.
It was estimated by Dugan that between 2000 and 3000 gpm were being supplied through the relay. With the mutual aid companies on the scene, there was enough 5-inch hose to complete another mile relay.
The fire was brought under control with the additional water from the relay, but not before there were many breaches in the brick wall between the inn and the Davis Furniture Store. Attack crews with 1 ¾ -inch lines entered the furniture store and encountered intense smoke and found the fire entering the structure in many areas. Fire fighters pulled ceilings and walls and kept the fire from spreading.
After the fire
As the fire was brought under control, mutual aid companies began picking up their equipment. All mutual aid departments from Tioga County had left the scene by 9 a.m. Departments from out of the county had left by 10 a.m.
Dugan was informed that there were still two people missing. A Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal from the Mansfield barracks was on the scene to investigate because of the one fatality. It was decided to call in a crane to remove the debris in order to locate the other two victims, who were found by 10:15 a.m.
Despite an aggressive attack by fire fighters, the Lamplighter Inn was destroyed by fire. Arson was determined as the cause of the fire. The investigation by three Pennsylvania State Police fire marshals and local fire officials continues. Loss was estimated at $500,000.
The value of a plan
Dugan stated that the concept of the relay had been planned months before. All the out-of-county fire departments had been contacted and agreed on what apparatus would respond and the steps to follow in setting up the relay. Drafting sites had been picked. It would have taken at least eight 2 ½ -inch lines to supply the same amount of water that the single 5-inch line supplied. When the out-of-county pumpers were pulled out of the relay, 1000 gpm were still being delivered to the foreground with just one supply pumper, Engine 10-3, the 2000-gpm pumper. The relay remained in operation until 10:30 a.m.