Helmet Cam: Reading Warehouse Fire

Mike G – Helmet cam footage of a 3rd Alarm on April 2, 2017 invoving the former L & B Metals warehouse at 213 S. 11th St, Reading, PA. The fire building was a dilapidated, 4-story L-shaped building that was half a block long and deep. Footage is shot from the “C” side of the fire building – Wunder Street. What could happen on a beautiful spring Sunday morning day-work


0928 hours / 213 South 11th Street / Box 0602 / C Platoon

The first alarm was transmitted on a beautiful spring Sunday morning for a report of smoke from the fourth floor of a building at the intersection of South 11th and Chestnut Streets. Additional calls reported a possible factory on fire. Car 7 (J. Stoudt) arrived and confirmed a working fire in a 4-story vacant warehouse and established command. Initially, Car 9 (L. Moyer) was assigned the southeast corner (C/D) sector of the fire while Lt. Glore (21C) was assigned the rear (C) sector on Wunder Street. Companies immediately prepared for master stream operations to both operate on the main body of fire and to protect the exposed properties surrounding the fire building. 

Lt. Rehr (D Platoon – Rescue 1), along with the Office of the Fire Marshal, maintains a hazardous buildings program for the Fire Department. This program is designed to make fire department members aware of existing buildings which, based on their age, configuration, and/or general condition, may pose an immediate and extreme danger to firefighting forces in the event of a fire. On September 16, 2016, Fire Prevention Lt. Zulick (Car 23) issued a Hazardous Building memo specific to the property at 213 S. 11th St. Noted were excessive fuel loading and collapsed of portions of the roof and floors. In addition, the sprinkler system and fire department connection were rendered inoperative. The fire building was a 4-story, “L” shaped structure with additional 1, 2, and 3-story portions that extended in the rear of the property fronting Wunder Street, with dimensions of approximately 200′ x 300′. 

With this information available and with the district companies having evaluated this building well prior to the fire, Command ordered that exterior operations were to be the order of the day. Elevated master streams were placed in service from Tower 1 (S. 11th St – A/B corner), Ladder 3 (S. 11th St – A/D corner), Ladder 1 (Wunder St – C side), and Exeter Township Tower 25 (Wunder St – C side). In addition, numerous portable master stream devices as well as the wagon pipes on RFD Engines 1 and 3 were placed in service. 1 3/4″ and 2 1/2″ handlines were advanced to the rooftops of the exposed homes in the 200 block of Wunder Street to both protect the homes and operate on the fire building. At 1140 hours, a significant roof collapse was reported. The Reading Police Department assisted in evacuating the homes surrounding the fire building. Collapse zones were established and enforced around the involved property. 

Car 7 requested the 2nd alarm at 0941 hours and, subsequently, the 3rd alarm at 1010 hours. With the striking of the 2nd alarm, City firefighters were recalled to staff reserve apparatus. A command post was established on South 11th St for the duration of the incident. At 1013 hours, Car 1 (W. Stoudt) arrived and assumed command. Off-duty City chiefs and other officers returning on the greater alarms were assigned fireground sectors and Incident Command System general staff responsibilities, with Car 3 (T. Kemery) assigned to cover the City. 

As City engines operated from hydrants in the immediate vicinity with significant flows to the master stream devices, there was a need to augment the water supply to the area. Consulting with the City water supply references, the Exter Township Fire Department and the Mount Penn Fire Department teamed-up to lay over 1000′ of 5″ large diameter supply line from a hydrant at 12th & Cotton Streets to the fireground. This resulted in an adequate water supply throughout the operation. 

The fire was initially placed under control at 15:43 hours with overhaul. However, with the extreme fuel loading within the building – much of it burried in the collpased portions – a deep-seated fire resulted that was difficult to access. While the fire department maintained a presence on scene and with fire apparatus continuing to operate, the fire regained in intensity at times to the point that additional companies were called back at various points during the overnight hours. A large excavator was brought to the scene by a demolition contractor at approximately 19:30 hours. This device began the tedious process of dismantling the building very deliberately to allow for access to the interior of the building for fire department streams. The process of extinguishing hot spots and flare-ups was ongoing throughout the evening and throughout the day on Monday, April 3 and into the early morning of Tuesday, April 4.

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