Many Valley fire departments fight two early morning blazes

| Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, 12:42 a.m.

Local fire departments were scrambling Thursday as fires broke out miles apart in the early morning hours.

The most critical situation was in Roscoe, where a fire ignited just before 4:30 a.m. at the Central Apartments along Furlong Avenue.

When that alarm sounded, area departments were already battling a blaze in a vacant house in California.

“I have to give credit to Washington Township firefighters for their quick response,” Roscoe fire Chief Todd Mauck said of the fire in his town. “They were on standby in our station while we were in California. Thankfully, we had just finished cleaning up at that scene when the call came in.

“It was a pretty chaotic scene because of the number of units and residents we had to make sure were evacuated.”

The building contains 22 units, 19 of which were occupied. Mauck estimated that about 26 people live in the building. All managed to make it out safely.

Two residents were alerted by the sound of smoke detectors and worked to notify the other residents to get out of the building.

“I noticed there was smoking coming from one of the apartments up there. So I started banging on doors trying to tell everybody to get out and the fire company was here in a matter of minutes,” Roger Koskoski told WPXI-TV, news partner of The Valley Independent.

“I looked up and saw a red glow coming from the ceiling, and I just called 911, and he ran up and got everybody out,” Koskoski's wife, Tina, added.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation. A state police fire marshal was called to investigate. It is believed the blaze started between the first and second floors.

“Right now, there is no official cause, but it's believed to be electrical in nature,” Mauck said.

Three firefighters, Adam Wilkinson of the Stockdale fire department and Richard Black and Dan Harvey, of Brownsville's North Side Fire Department, are being heralded as heroes for rescuing a resident.

“There was a deaf man that lived on the third floor of the building,” Stockdale Chief Tom Wilkinson said. “He had no idea that anything was even going on until those guys came busting in the door.

“That situation could have been really bad, really quick.”

West Brownsville firefighter Tom Miller rescued a dog named Charlie. The canine, visibly shaken, was given oxygen and treated for smoke inhalation by Brownsville Ambulance personnel and transported to an animal hospital in Richeyville.

Another dog, a bull mastiff named Chance, died. The dogs' owner was out of town at the time, according to WPXI.

The American Red Cross was called in just after 5:30 a.m. to assist tenants. Mauck said he considers it rare that a standby unit is called out for another structure fire.

“I'd say having two structure fires in such a short time, so close together is rare,” he said.

Many departments that responded to the vacant house fire in California were sent to Roscoe.

Roscoe and Washington Township crews were assisted by Brownsville's North Side, South Brownsville, Stockdale, Allenport, California, West Brownsville, and Fallowfield Township firefighters.

The Bentleyville Rapid Intervention Team was dispatched from California. The North Belle Vernon fire department was called to stand by in Washington Township while it was in Roscoe, Charleroi firefighters were dispatched to Allenport, and firefighters from New Eagle were sent to Fallowfield's station.

House empty

In California, firefighters were called to a vacant house at 72 Second St. at 1:45 a.m., Chief Tom Hartley said.

“When we got to the scene, the structure was fully involved,” Hartley said.

“We verified that no one was in the building and that it was vacant. We did what we call a surround and drown on the fire and made sure it stayed contained to the one structure.”

Eighty firefighters from seven companies responded to the blaze.

The following departments assisted California firefighters: Roscoe, West Brownsville, Brownsville's North Side department, South Brownsville, Richeyville, and the Bentleyville fire department's Rapid Intervention Team.

A neighboring apartment complex filled with California University of Pennsylvania students was evacuated for a short time until the fire was brought under control.

“No university students were displaced,” Cal U spokeswoman Christine Kindl said. “The students were asked to step outside of the building for a short time, but they were allowed back into their apartments.”

Hartley said the apartment structure sustained significant damage on the side adjacent to the fire.

“The apartments were literally within a foot of the house,” Hartley said. “The siding is totally gone, and there was concern of the fire spreading.”

The chief added that a second apartment building nearly 60 feet away was scorched by intense heat.

The California fire is under investigation by a state police fire marshal and is considered to be suspicious, Hartley said.

Firefighters from California were dispatched to the Roscoe fire. Hartley said the aerial unit was sent to Roscoe while California's main engine remained on Second Street to extinguish hot spots.

“Needless to say, we haven't got much rest,” Hartley said. “It was a busy night.”

Smoke in Allenport

Fire crews were called to a reported house fire next to the Allenport post office 10:45 a.m. Thursday.

Chief Jon McCrory said crews were only on the scene for a short time, adding the call turned out to be nothing.

“There actually was not a fire,” McCrory said. “Someone driving by that knows the house was vacant saw smoke coming from the structure. It turns out that the person that owns the house had gone in earlier and turned on the furnace. The smoke was actually coming from the chimney.”

Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2667 or

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