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Westmoreland

In wake of devastating fire, Unity officials vow township will be winter-ready

Joe Napsha
| Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, 12:06 p.m.
State police fire investigators work the scene of a fire at the Unity Township public works garage. (Staff photo)
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
State police fire investigators work the scene of a fire at the Unity Township public works garage. (Staff photo)
Firefighters pour water from a ladder truck onto Unity Township's public works building that was destroyed by fire Sunday morning.
Tribune-Review
Firefighters pour water from a ladder truck onto Unity Township's public works building that was destroyed by fire Sunday morning.
Unity Township's public works vehicles destroyed in fire outside public works vehicles.
Tribune-Review
Unity Township's public works vehicles destroyed in fire outside public works vehicles.
In this file photo from Sept. 25, 2017, burned out vehicles remain in place after a Sept, 24 fire at the Unity Township public works garage.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
In this file photo from Sept. 25, 2017, burned out vehicles remain in place after a Sept, 24 fire at the Unity Township public works garage.
Smoke continues to rise, after a Sunday fire, at the Unity Township public works garage, on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Smoke continues to rise, after a Sunday fire, at the Unity Township public works garage, on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017.
Burned out vehicles remain in place, after a Sunday fire, at the Unity Township public works garage, on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Burned out vehicles remain in place, after a Sunday fire, at the Unity Township public works garage, on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017.
Burned out vehicles remain in place, after a Sunday fire, at the Unity Township public works garage, on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Burned out vehicles remain in place, after a Sunday fire, at the Unity Township public works garage, on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017.
Unity Township public works employee, surveys the damage, after a Sunday fire destroyed the Unity Township Public Work garage, on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Unity Township public works employee, surveys the damage, after a Sunday fire destroyed the Unity Township Public Work garage, on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017.
Framed by burned out vehicles, State Police Fire Marshall's conduct their investigation, after a Sunday fire, at the Unity Township public works garage, on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Framed by burned out vehicles, State Police Fire Marshall's conduct their investigation, after a Sunday fire, at the Unity Township public works garage, on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017.
Smoke rises more than 24 hours after a fire began, at the Unity Township public works garage, on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Smoke rises more than 24 hours after a fire began, at the Unity Township public works garage, on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017.
Unity Township supervisors Tom Ulishney (left), John Mylant, Mike O'Barto, and Pete Tenerowicz, emergency management director, talk about the Sunday garage fire, that destroyed vehicles and equipment, during a press conference in Unity Township, on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Unity Township supervisors Tom Ulishney (left), John Mylant, Mike O'Barto, and Pete Tenerowicz, emergency management director, talk about the Sunday garage fire, that destroyed vehicles and equipment, during a press conference in Unity Township, on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017.
In this file photo, Supervisor John Mylant, a township roadmaster, talks about the fire that consumed the public works garage, during a press conference in Unity Township last September.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
In this file photo, Supervisor John Mylant, a township roadmaster, talks about the fire that consumed the public works garage, during a press conference in Unity Township last September.

Despite a devastating fire Sunday in Unity that destroyed seven snowplow trucks stored in the township's public works garage, municipal officials said they'll be ready for snow removal this winter.

“Our eyes are on the winter so that we will be ready for snow removal,” Supervisor Mike O'Barto said Monday, a short distance from the gutted public works garage where a fire caused more than $5 million worth of damage to vehicles, equipment, tools and the building.

“Everybody's offering to help. We've been inundated with phone calls” from more than a dozen municipalities in the region, said supervisor Chairman John Mylant, a township roadmaster.

Communities offered the loan of everything from mowers and street sweepers to a 5-ton truck with a snow plow and salt spreader.

“I'm sure we may need for three to four months, some of the vehicles you're offering,” O'Barto told fellow officials from other Westmoreland County townships and the city of Latrobe, who gathered at the Unity municipal building Monday to list vehicles and other equipment they could spare.

Others are expected to email information on what they can loan from their fleets.

“It will be business as usual” by winter, Mylant vowed.

The burnt hulks of the trucks, backhoes and sweepers were stark reminders of the intensity of the fire. The rubber tires that contained the strings of steel belts that lay amid the rubble had melted in the fire, causing heavy black smoke that was visible as far as 23 miles from the public works building off Beatty County Road.

Luckily, the township had several vehicles parked outside the 80-by-150-foot building when the fire started at 8:45 a.m. Mylant and fellow public works employee Scott Morrison rushed to the scene minutes after getting the alarm and were able to drive a few vehicles out of the rear of the building as fire blazed in the front section.

Mylant said he could barely see to steer the trucks out because the smoke was so thick.

“It was like being in a closet with the door closed,” Mylant said.

Also lost, O'Barto noted, were a welder, a backhoe, one of three mowers and a new trailer needed to haul the township paver between a job site in the Baggaley area and another on Hughes Road. Numerous hand tools, used to make items and repair vehicles, also were lost, Mylant said.

The cement block public works building, which cost $1.8 million to building in 2004, did not have a fire suppression system. O'Barto, who was a supervisor when it was constructed, said the state building code at the time did not require such a system.

The following year, the state adopted the Uniform Construction Code, which does require one.

The township's insurance adjustor estimated the loss at more than $5 million, O'Barto said. Insurance is expected to cover lease of a temporary space to house remaining township equipment and whatever is borrowed, with the former school bus garage on Route 981 and a hangar at the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport among locations being considered.

He said it likely will be a year before the township can rebuild its garage.

Two state police fire marshals were at the fire scene Monday morning, shoveling ash as part of their investigation to determine the origin and cause of the blaze. They declined to comment.

Peter Tenerowicz, township emergency management director, declined to speculate on the origin of the fire, pending completion of the fire marshal's probe.

The officials said the building will have to be demolished. Three of the walls are unstable. In the meantime, the township is seeking an alternative site for a public works garage, Mylant said, noting that plans to rebuild have yet to be determined.

O'Barto said the cost to rebuild a garage the same size might be more than double the original cost.

Staff writer Jeff Himler contributed to this report.Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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