Share This Page

Fast-moving fire torches home in Tarentum

| Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, 9:41 a.m.
Eric Felack, Valley News Dispatch
A Highland Hose firefighter scrambles to get off of a porch roof as flames leap out of the second story windows of a house on East Ninth Avenue in Tarentum on Friday morning. Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch.
Eric Felack, Valley News Dispatch
Billowing smoke pours from a house on East Ninth Avenue in Tarentum as the first-arriving fire apparatus from Highland Hose pulls in front. Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Eric Felack, Valley News Dispatch
Flames and billowing smoke leap from a house on East Ninth Avenue in Tarentum as Highland Hose fire chief Terry Chambon begins directing operations at the scene. Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Eric Felack, Valley News Dispatch
Flames and billowing smoke leap from a house on East Ninth Avenue in Tarentum as firefighters begin their attack on Friday morning. Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch

Fast-moving flames forced three people to flee their Tarentum home just before 9 a.m. Friday, but the family dog apparently died.

Michael Polly, his wife, Laura, and his 17-year-old grandson were inside when smoke suddenly filled the house at 601 E. Ninth St. All three escaped the flames.

Ken Misejka, a Tarentum Borough employee, was driving by when he saw smoke pouring from the basement door. He reported the fire to 911, then saw Michael Polly going back into the house.

“He said he was trying to find his dog. I got as far as the kitchen with him and we stopped,” Misejka said. “The smoke was too bad, and I had to take him outside. He didn't want to go.

“I love pets, too, but they can be replaced. A man can't,” Misejka said.

“Kenny is a hero. If he wasn't there, a man might not have left the house,” said borough code enforcement officer Tim Dzugan.

“Yes. He probably saved a life,” said borough police Sgt. James Newcomer.

As Newcomer was speaking, flames exploded through windows overlooking Wills Alley and shot out almost into the alley 30 feet away. Columns of thick smoke roiled above the 2½-story frame house.

As intense heat rose in the house, melted vinyl siding slid to the ground.

While flames were destroying their home, the Polly couple and their grandson found refuge in next-door neighbor Jim O'Donnell's house.

The couple's 10-year-old twins, who also live with them, were at school at the time.

“Please keep us in your prayers,” Michael Polly asked.

He said he went back inside the house to find Thor, a dachshund. “He probably went under the couch,” he said.

Later, Polly was taken to a hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation.

Throughout the morning, neighbors and friends brought coats and other items to help the family on the sunny but seasonally cold morning.

The Salvation Army mobile kitchen fed fire and rescue crews while Laura Polly met with Red Cross disaster aid officials.A family friend is trying to establish a relief effort for the Pollys.

The Polly family is very active with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, said the Rev. Aaron Kriss, pastor of Holy Martyrs Roman Catholic Church in Tarentum, which the Polly family attends. Among other things, the society helps homeless people.

“Now they're homeless,” said friend Matt Struhar.

Highland Hose Chief Terry Chambon said it took hours to put out the stubborn blaze because of the way the house was built.

“This house is balloon construction and the fire went from the basement to the attic,” he said. “We had to contend with fire in the basement and the attic and roof at the same time.”

Balloon construction means that the outside walls of a structure are continuous from the bottom to the top of the house, allowing fire to race inside a wall through the entire height of the structure.

In standard construction, walls stop at each floor level, creating a barrier that slows the spread of flames.

Chambon said Allegheny County Chief Deputy Fire Marshal Don Brucker and another deputy are investigating the blaze.

“With this construction, the fire went from the basement to the wall and all the way up to the attic and the roof,” Brucker said. “The firefighters did a good job.”

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or cbiedka@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.