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Allegheny

Victim identified in fatal apartment fire above PaPa J's in Carnegie

Tony LaRussa
| Saturday, March 3, 2018, 8:19 a.m.
Firefighters remained at the scene of a Friday night fire in Carnegie on Saturday, March 3, 2018. The blaze engulfed the building that houses the popular PaPa J's restaurant on the first floor.
Tony LaRussa | Tribune-Review
Firefighters remained at the scene of a Friday night fire in Carnegie on Saturday, March 3, 2018. The blaze engulfed the building that houses the popular PaPa J's restaurant on the first floor.
Laura Szymanski comforts her cat, Hope, on Saturday, March 3, 2018, moments after a firefighter found the pet inside the heavily damaged apartment building  in Carnegie that caught fire late Friday night. Another of her cats, Grace, escaped the blaze but a third named Victory is still missing.
Tony LaRussa | Tribune-Review
Laura Szymanski comforts her cat, Hope, on Saturday, March 3, 2018, moments after a firefighter found the pet inside the heavily damaged apartment building in Carnegie that caught fire late Friday night. Another of her cats, Grace, escaped the blaze but a third named Victory is still missing.
Patches of bright blue sky were visible through the roof of a building at the corner of East Main Street and Broadway Avenue in Carnegie on Saturday, March 3, 2018. The building was heavily damaged by a blaze that started late Friday and quickly spread. Firefighters were on the scene dousing hot spots in the  multi-story building overnight and into the morning.
Tony LaRussa | Tribune-Review
Patches of bright blue sky were visible through the roof of a building at the corner of East Main Street and Broadway Avenue in Carnegie on Saturday, March 3, 2018. The building was heavily damaged by a blaze that started late Friday and quickly spread. Firefighters were on the scene dousing hot spots in the multi-story building overnight and into the morning.
Ice that formed from the water used to douse a fire in Carnegie clings to the exterior of PaPa J's at the corner of East Main Street and Broadway Avenue on Saturday, March 3, 2018. The restaurant has been a fixture in the borough since 1987.
Tony LaRussa | Tribune-Review
Ice that formed from the water used to douse a fire in Carnegie clings to the exterior of PaPa J's at the corner of East Main Street and Broadway Avenue on Saturday, March 3, 2018. The restaurant has been a fixture in the borough since 1987.
The Family Dollar store was among the businesses near the intersection of East Main Street and Broadway Avenue in Carnegie that were closed on Saturday, March 3, 2018 because power was still off from an overnight fire that heavily damaged an apartment building.
Tony LaRussa | Tribune-Review
The Family Dollar store was among the businesses near the intersection of East Main Street and Broadway Avenue in Carnegie that were closed on Saturday, March 3, 2018 because power was still off from an overnight fire that heavily damaged an apartment building.
Firefighters at the scene of a fire in the apartments above PaPa J's restaurant in Carnegie the night of March 2, 2018. Medics transported two people to the hospital.
Christine Zirngibl | Tribune-Review
Firefighters at the scene of a fire in the apartments above PaPa J's restaurant in Carnegie the night of March 2, 2018. Medics transported two people to the hospital.
Firefighters at the scene of a fire in the apartments above PaPa J's restaurant in Carnegie the night of March 2, 2018. Medics transported two people to the hospital.
Christine Zirngibl | Tribune-Review
Firefighters at the scene of a fire in the apartments above PaPa J's restaurant in Carnegie the night of March 2, 2018. Medics transported two people to the hospital.
Firefighters at the scene of a fire in the apartments above PaPa J's restaurant in Carnegie the night of March 2, 2018. Medics transported two people to the hospital.
Christine Zirngibl | Tribune-Review
Firefighters at the scene of a fire in the apartments above PaPa J's restaurant in Carnegie the night of March 2, 2018. Medics transported two people to the hospital.

The man who died in a fire that engulfed a Carnegie apartment building late Friday night was a long-time maintenance worker for the family that owned the building.

John Michael Wells, 64, who lived in the three-story building at the corner of East Main Street and Broadway Avenue, was rushed to UPMC Mercy Hospital shortly after the five-alarm fire broke out at around 10 p.m.

The well-known restaurant PaPa J's is on the first floor.

Wells was pronounced dead at 5:32 p.m. on Saturday, according to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office. An autopsy will be conducted to determine the cause and manner of his death.

Michael Troiani, whose family owns the building and restaurant, said Wells did maintenance for the family's properties since 1987.

Wells' sister, Helen Campbell, told Tribune-Review news partner WPXI-TV that her brother died of smoke inhalation.

"You don't see knights in shining armor anymore, but that's what he was," Campbell said.

Laura Szymanski, who lives in the building, said she heard smoke alarms go off shortly after she got home from work but was not over overly concerned.

"I kind of ignored it because it's happened a few times before, when somebody burns food while cooking," she said. "But when I started hearing all this commotion in the building, I realized it was time to get out."

At least one person had to be rescued from an upper-floor window with a ladder truck. A second victim, whose name and condition have not been released, was also taken to the hospital, according to Matt Brown, chief of the Allegheny County Emergency Services.

A third person was evaluated at the scene but not taken for treatment, Brown said.

The fire was brought under control about 4 a.m. but firefighters remained on the scene through much of Saturday dousing hot spots and sifting through rubble in the building, according to authorities.

The building sustained heavy damage, including a partial collapse of the roof. The fire is under investigation by the Allegheny County fire marshal.

The fire displaced about 25 residents, 13 of whom are being assisted by The Red Cross of Western Pennsylvania, according to the organization's Twitter feed.

The streets surrounding the site of the fire were closed off to vehicle traffic for much of the day Saturday. A number of businesses were closed because power had to be shut off due to the fire.

The Family Dollar store on Broadway was reopened for business on Sunday, but the Marathon gas station, which is typically open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., remained closed.

Carnegie council President Sue Demko said the borough engineer conducted an initial investigation into the building's condition on Saturday but will need time to determine whether it can be salvaged.

"We'll be discussing the fire and status of the building at our meeting on Monday night," Demko said this morning.

The borough's regular workshop meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m.

"That building and the owners are a big part of this community," she said. "Everybody is rallying behind them (the Troianis) and offering whatever help we can provide."

Demko described the building as a landmark in the borough and that the restaurant it houses draws people to the community's downtown shopping district.

Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-772-6368 or tlarussa@tribweb.com or via Twitter @TonyLaRussaTrib.

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