Four firefighters were injured last week, two of them seriously, in what Fire Chief Chris Pezak called “one of the most stubborn fires I've ever encountered in my life.”
Four firefighters were injured last week, two of them seriously, in what Fire Chief Chris Pezak called "one of the most stubborn fires I've ever encountered in my life."
Crews were called to the scene of a house fire at 96 Fallbrook St. when a neighbor noticed smoke from the blaze that erupted there at about 11 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 9. No one was inside the residence at the time except for a pet dog, and the state police listed Hope Fogarty and Matt Atkinson as the owners of the home.
Pezak said he was surprised by what he found when he first entered the house.
"There was heavy fire in the basement, where we believe it started, but I was shocked to find that it had already made its way up to the second floor," he stated, "so we were in the middle of a swirling circle of fire."
Shortly after arriving on the scene, Pezak made the call for a second alarm, which he said was "mainly for manpower." He noted that crews from Mayfield, Jermyn and Greenfield Twp. responded at that point, and others eventually did as well.
"The house has been added onto several times over the years, and combined with the way it was originally constructed, that just fed the different fires we were fighting inside," he explained.
After more than an hour-and-a-half, though, Pezak said he and his fellow firefighters had the blaze contained, preventing it from going through the entire house and possibly affecting other properties. He declared the fire as under control at 12:42 p.m.
"And just a few minutes later is when it happened," he offered.
Just before 1 p.m., Pezak stated that he was in the loft area of the second floor with three firefighters — John Veina, Matt Burnett and Bob Wright — when the floor suddenly collapsed beneath them.
"I heard something and we all looked at each other for a moment, then everything went out from under us," he recounted. "Next thing I knew, I was falling down to the first floor along with John and Matt, while Bob grabbed onto something on the second floor and avoided going down with us. He had been standing further back away from where we were, or he would have gone down, too."
He said two other firefighters — Brandon Allan and Greg Davis, both volunteers with William Walker Hose Co. — were just below them on the first floor, so the two of them were buried by the falling debris and trapped briefly beneath it.
The first thing Pezak saw after hitting the first floor was Allan buried in the debris, laying there unconscious and motionless.
"That was the worst sight I've ever seen in my entire life," he recalled. "I thought he was dead, I really did."
"Then I tugged on him and he started to moan," Pezak noted. "At that point, I breathed a big sigh of relief, because at least I knew the kid was alive."
Davis and Allan were removed from the rubble, and Pezak pointed out that "they were both en route to the hospital within eight minutes." They were transported to Geisinger-Community Medical Center in Scranton and admitted there, Allan with a fractured collarbone and Davis with several broken ribs as well as a lower back injury.
"Greg's a big guy, but he got the worst of it," Pezak related. "The air pack he was wearing saved him from an even worse fate, because without that, his back might have been broken. I don't know if he would have survived."
"And I found out later that Greg had heard the upper floor collapsing over them and he pushed Brandon away, which may have saved his life," Pezak added.
In addition to those injuries, Bob Wright sustained a cut to his hand and Steve Wright a knee injury. Both were taken to Regional Hospital in Scranton, where they were treated and released.
Pezak also commended the firefighters who rescued Davis and Allan by pulling them from the wreckage of the collapse, as well as "everyone who was at the scene, even if they just gave somebody a cup of water while they were there, because this one was really bad."
"These guys don't think of themselves as heroes, but I certainly think of them that way," he insisted. "They put their lives on the line every time they go into a situation like this one."
"Look at Greg Davis, he put Brandon's well-being before his own when he pushed him away from the collapse," he noted. "That's what the firefighting brotherhood is all about. I'd give my life for any one of these guys and I know every one of them would do the same for me."
Before leaving the scene, Pezak said he went through the whole house.
"I walked through the house a couple times, and so did a couple other guys, just to make sure there were no hot spots remaining," he related.
However, he noted that just after 5 p.m. firefighters were called back there to put out some small fires which had rekindled.
Pezak pointed out that firefighters did try to save Scooter, and even performed CPR after removing him from the house, but the dog succumbed to smoke inhalation.
"Our first priority when we went in there was controlling that fire and making sure everyone was as safe as they could possibly be," he offered.
"Listen, I'm an animal lover, and if anything ever happened to my dog I'd be very upset about it, but as much as we would have liked to have brought that little dog out alive, we just couldn't do it," he added. "We eventually found him in a room all the way in back."
As for the collapse, Pezak explained that he takes full responsibility as chief for anything that occurs at a fire scene in the city. At the same time, he said he isn't second-guessing himself.
"We had over 500 years of firefighting experience in that house, and no one thought for one second that it was an issue," he stated, speaking of the prospect of the second floor collapsing. "If anything, you'd worry about the first floor because the fire was raging in the basement, but even that was solid. It was just totally unexpected."
"I'm not the kind of fire chief that stands outside of a burning house watching other guys go in and put their lives on the line to fight it," he explained. "I won't send any one of my guys into a situation that I won't go into myself, so I'm always right there with them — and I get criticized for that. But I'm always in command, I'm always in control, and I was here as well."
In a statement issued before this edition of the NEWS went to print, the Pennsylvania State Police Fire Marshal Unit in Dunmore reported: "The cause of this fire is undetermined at this time and the investigation continues. Circumstances do not appear suspicious."
Anyone with any information is asked to contact the fire marshal unit by calling (570) 963-3156.