On February 4, 2013 the Williamsport Volunteer Fire Company experienced a mayday when a firefighter fell down a set of unprotected stairs during a structure fire at a multi-story, multi-tenant occupancy.
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Just after 0700hrs on February 4, 2013, Washington County 911 Dispatch received a call reporting heavy black smoke to the rear of 110 North Conococheague Street in Williamsport. The caller advised them that her house was also filling with the smoke from outside. Crews were quickly dispatched out on Box 2-1 at 07:20 hours that morning. Williamsport Rescue Engine 2 was able to see heavy smoke showing as they approached the scene. Lieutenant Nokes of Company 2 immediately requested the Working Fire Assignment as they arrived. Crews found heavy fire on side Charlie of the structure as they began their initial attack on the blaze. Chief William Ball from Company 2 arrived and assumed Command after a quick size up and face-to-face with Lieutenant Nokes. Firefighters worked to control the fire, but the fire found its way through a cock loft area and rapidly spread to different parts of the structure. At 07:48 hours Chief Ball requested a Second Alarm struck.
As heavy smoke encompassed the Williamsport area, crews continued to work diligently to gain control of the blaze. Firefighter’s main game plan at this point was to keep the fire contained to the main fire building. At 08:15 Chief Ball requested a third alarm and Level 2 Staging was established at Company 2’s quarters on Brandy Drive east of the incident. All hands continued to work to bring the blaze under control when Assistant Chief Kopp declared a May-Day after seeing a firefighter go down and become separated from his crew at 08:27 hours. RIT was immediately sent in to assist, but luckily the firefighter was able to self-extricate himself from the debris and rejoin his group quickly with no injuries. Firefighters continued on their quest to gain control as the building was deteriorating around them. After observing this, Command called for all buildings to be evacuated at 09:54 hours. It was later declared at 10:19 hours by Command that the Main Fire Building was off limits to all personnel due to the structural integrity being compromised. Around 11:00 hours, crews were seeing less smoke coming from the building showing signs that their efforts were working. It took four hours reaching a total of Five Alarms before bringing the fire under control which was reported to dispatch by Command at 11:20 hours.
Firefighters remained on the scene for several hours conducting salvage and over haul operations working to extinguish the remainder of the fire. Meanwhile the State Fire Marshal’s Office was on site working an investigation into what caused the blaze that destroyed this historical building. State FM26 Ed Ernst later announced that the cause was traced back to a furnace located in an outbuilding on side Charlie of the structure. The oil furnace malfunctioned sparking a fire in the attached out building which quickly spread to the main structure. Some Williamsport Residents were devastated by the loss of the building. The building itself dated back to the 1800’s pre-civil war era. Housing multiple businesses and hotels over the years, the building is best known as “Wolfe’s On The Square” currently housing a Liquor Store at 1 West Potomac Street and apartments on the North Conococheague Street side of the structure. The initial caller was the only occupant in the building at the time of the fire, and she was safely able to evacuate the structure prior to fire departments arrival. The American Red Cross was called out to the scene and was able to assist her since she lost everything in the fire. The building is believed to be a total loss with damages estimated to be around $500,000.
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