NORTH MANHEIM TOWNSHIP (SCHUYLKILL COUNTY), PA: On November 26, 2011 at 23:00 hrs the fire fighters who were standing by in Schuylkill Haven were sent to a possible structure on Route 61. The phone caller spotted smoke coming from the roof of the Buffet House Restaurant on Route 61 in North Manheim Township. The responding fire units were on stand by for Schuylkill Haven and Cressona Fire Companies who were fighting a multi-alarm fire at the Cressona Textile Waste Inc. warehouse building in Cressona.
Pine Grove Engine 58-10, Engine-Rescue 58-50, and Hamburg Ladder 61 were the first units on scene and reported there was smoke showing from the building. A Pottsville City Assistant Fire Chief went on scene and reported he had a working fire in the large building. Pottsville Assistant Fire Chief P-6 established incident command and request the second alarm. The second alarm was made up with additional engine and truck companies, who then responded to the scene. Engine companies from Saint Clair, Port Carbon, Orwigsburg and the Minersville Ladder were then dispatched to the Buffet House for a working commercial building fire.
Pine Grove Engine 58-10 arrived and staged on the Alpha Side of the structure. The engine crew deployed and advanced a number of hose lines to the main entrance. Hamburg Ladder 61 staged on the Bravo Side and sent its ladder to the roof.
Saint Clair Engine 702 established a connection to a hydrant north of the scene and feed Engine 59-10 and 56-10. Minersville Ladder 519 arrived and staged on the Charlie-Delta corner of the building. Ladder 519 was set up and sent into service on the Charlie-Delta Side of the building. Command then ordered the two truck companies to send roof teams to the roof to open it up for ventilation. Engines 59-10 and 56-10 staged on the Delta Side and sent their attack crews to the rear entrances with hose lines. The smoke coming from the basement quickly filled up the entire building. It was then determined the fire was in basement and now was attempting to spread through out the building. Command then request for Saint Clair Tower-Ladder 702, Englewood Engine 369 RIT Team, and Pottsville Engine 71 dispatch to the scene to assist. The third alarm was sent to the scene when they became available from the first fire. Pottsville City Ladder 51, Pottsville City Engine 11 and Schuylkill Haven Engine 733 broke free from the Cressona fire and responded to the Buffet House.
Command ordered attack crews into the basement to search for the seat of the fire. One attack crew from the Pottsville City Fire made entry into the basement and found the fire burning in the center. The attack crews worked on attacking the basement fire for 15 minutes until conditions deteriorate. Interior crews on the Division 1 reported the first floor was becoming spongy and may collapse. Smoke traveled through out the building which became dark black and started to push from all openings. Incident Command then made a decision to evacuate all personnel from the structure. Attack crews reformed outside the structure and took a proper PAR Check to determine any missing personnel.
The attack crews found fire moving throughout the building and extending into the second floor. The fire spread quickly through all floors and started to vent from the roof of the building. Command then had all four truck companies set up to do master stream work. He then ordered for all windows to be taken out to help vent the building. The engine companies then set up large hose lines and portable monitors in all door ways and large windows.
The Incident Commander sized up the building and found that there were numerous parts of the building burning. In 15 minutes the fire conditions in the building worsened and became extremely dangerous. Command then decided to go into an all defensive mode to attack the fire. Two major collapses occurred when the first floor and the roof collapsed into the basement. A new PAR report was then taken on the fire ground to check on the safety of all fire fighters. Multiple master streams continue to attack the fully involved structure from all sides. Water flowed from a number of engine deck guns, portable monitors and ladders that surrounded the building.
The defensive master stream operations caused a water pressure problem with the local water system. Hydrant water was still being used at the scene of first multiple alarm fire in Cressona. It was then decided by Command that tanker water will be needed to assist with the “Surround Drown Operations”. Incident Command then activated a "Tanker Task force - Shuttle Operation" which brought in tankers from Schuylkill and Berks Counties. A dump site was then set up in the nearby Aldi’s Supermarket parking lot. Engines pumped from the portable ponds and feed the engines at the fire building. Tankers were then sent to the Cressona Mall parking lot to be refilled at the refill site. The Schuylkill County Incident Command Post Vehicle was redirect from the Cressona fire to the Buffet House Fire. The vehicle became the command post and was staged in the Aldi’s parking lot. A number of local fire police units were called to the scene to shut down Route 61.
At 04:00 hours Incident Command re-evaluated the fire and the operations that were being conducted. He determined it will take an additional 6 to 8 hours more to get the fire under control and fully extinguished. A number of fire units already spent 5-6 hours fighting the large fire in Cressona earlier and needed to be relieved for rest. Command then ordered a new RIT Team and the fourth alarm to the scene to relieved the tired on scene crews.
Pottsville City Goodwill Engine 41, Humane Engine 32, and Phoenix Ladder 21 were sent to the scene to relieve the first and second alarm companies. Tamaqua’s RIT team responded to the scene and took over as the RIT. Port Carbon and Saint Clair engines remained on the scene and continued with their water supply operations. Mount Carbon Engine 53-10 and Chief 53 responded to the fire scene and assumed command of the incident.
At 07:00 hours the thick gray smoke continued to vent from the roof of the building. A very hot basement fire continued to burn and required all companies to remain out side the structure. Fire fighters continued to pour water into the structure with the help of elevated master streams and large hose lines. The bulk of the basement fire was knocked and extinguished. The large column of smoke that was venting from the roof began to disappear. Just before 09:00 hours an order was sent to the Port Carbon and Saint Clair Fire Units for them to start breaking down their water supply from the hydrants. The roadway was reopened just before noon after the supply hose lines were taken up.
A Fifth alarm was then summoned to the scene to assist with the final overhaul and extinguishment. Saint Clair West End Engine 705, Mahanoy City Humane Engine 451, and Shenandoah Hookies Squirt 745 responded and relieved the fourth alarm units. Engine 451 had to obtain a new water supply from a hydrant close to the fire scene.
At 12:30 hours the American Red Cross emergency support vehicle returned back to the fire scene with food and liquid refreshments. Incident Command then decided to place all elevated master streams and engine deck guns into operation on the smoldering building. Fire fighters then took an hour break to eat lunch and rest up. The crews then returned back to work before 14:00 hours in searching and extinguishing hot spots. The Mahanoy City crew was able to breach a wall and the floor to gain access to and extinguish hidden fire. The fifth alarm units finally started to break down and picked up after 16:00 hours.
The building was a total loss and will need to be demolished in the future. The cause of that fire was never determined and is currently under the investigation of the State Police Fire Marshal. The last fire units left the fire scene before 18:00 hours.
Schuylkill Haven EMS, Pottsville EMS and the American Red Cross were on scene for fire fighter rehab operations. Additional mutual aid fire units stood by at Schuylkill Haven and Cressona fire stations throughout the extended incident.