Man seriously injured in Pa. warehouse fire

January 24, 2000

Vision warehouse fireBy DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg

left photo: DON AINES; bottom photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Fire ripped through a warehouse in downtown Greencastle Monday, critically injuring a Mercersburg, Pa., man and damaging a mobile home and a garage when the warehouse walls collapsed.

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Terry Metcalfe, age unavailable, of 11760 Punch Bowl Road, was inside the burning Vision Warehousing & Distribution Inc. at 255 N. Carlisle St., for an hour before firefighters pulled him to safety.

He was taken by ambulance to Waynesboro Hospital and flown to the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, where he was listed in critical condition Monday night.


"As soon as we looked down and saw him, he took a breath," said Franklin Fire Co. Deputy Chief Danny Monn.

The fire at Vision Warehousing & Distribution was called in at 10:41 a.m. Teams of firefighters made several trips into the blazing building before bringing Metcalfe out at 11:42 a.m., according to Greencastle Borough Emergency Management Coordinator Don Eshleman Sr.

Metcalfe was on a crew of workers renovating a 70-year-old portion of the warehouse, which in past years had housed Greencastle Ice and Cold Storage and the Baer Packing Co., Eshleman said.

Ralph Mowen of Greencastle was preparing to load his tractor-trailer with tomatoes outside the warehouse when the fire broke out.

"They were removing old refrigeration pipes with a cutting torch in the basement," he said. The workers were from Metcalfe Scrap Service of Mercersburg.

"I was cutting pipes ... and the foam insulation in the building caught fire," said Robert Swisher, a co-worker of Metcalfe's. "It got so black you couldn't see anything. ... I dropped my extinguisher and left."

"It flashed up worse than anybody thought. When that stuff catches fire, 60 seconds and a room will be black," said Barry Metcalfe, who held his brother Terry's wife, Tammy, in his arms as he watched the building burn. He said the crew had several fire extinguishers on hand in case of fire, but it spread too quickly for them to be effective.

Greencastle Rescue Hose Co. Deputy Fire Chief Robbie Mellott said he heard Monn call out, "I found him. I found the victim."

Terry Metcalfe was found lying near the bottom of a staircase, Mellott said.

"It was very intense. There was a lot of heat," Monn said, adding he was worried the building would collapse.

Jamie Hammond of the Franklin Fire Co. helped Mellott and Monn get Metcalfe outside.

"Visibility was zero," said Mellott, who was covered with soot. There was no way for the smoke and heat to escape from the windowless building, he said.

Garage collapseA short time after the rescue, the west wall collapsed into the warehouse and the north wall crashed outward, crushing the bedroom of a mobile home and part of a two-car garage.

Gladys Griffith said Meals on Wheels had just delivered food for her and her husband, Charles, when she saw the fire and called 911.

"I quickly got (Charles) in the car with his oxygen tank," she said.

They were across the street from the mobile home when it was hit by the falling brick wall. "I just screamed and put my hands up," she said.

She and her husband, who has cancer, have lived there since 1972. Griffith said the garage belongs to their landlords, Louis and Chris Reagan, who were out of state Monday.

Residents of the trailer park north of the warehouse were evacuated to the Rescue Hose Co. fire hall on U.S. 11. At 3 p.m., about 15 residents, mostly senior citizens, met there with a Red Cross Disaster Services team.

"I think my trailer will be all right," said Anne Smith, who had her sleeping cat, Thomas, cradled in her lap. A resident of the trailer park for 10 years, she was going to stay with her daughter in Highspire, Pa.

"As a safety measure, one of the things that has been done is to disconnect electrical power to that area," Rescue Hose Co. Emergency Medical Services Incident Commander William Little told the residents.

A fire company member was assigned to take information from those who needed medications retrieved from their homes.

Half a dozen residents remained at the fire hall late Monday. The Red Cross was expected to provide them with overnight shelter because power might not be restored until today, a fire company spokesman said.

Little said a crane was being brought in to push down what was left of the north wall to eliminate the danger of it collapsing on nearby structures.

Eshleman said 51 units from as far away as Shippensburg, Pa., and Leitersburg responded to the scene or were on standby. Tanker trucks arrived every few minutes to augment the water supply from borough hydrants.

Don Eshleman Jr., president of Rescue Hose Co., said the warehouse was being used for private and company storage. A modern addition at the rear of building did not burn. It was being used by Fresh Express Mid-Atlantic Inc., a food processor with a plant in another part of the borough.

The fire snarled traffic through Greencastle, with westbound traffic on Pa. 16 being detoured around the borough in the afternoon to ease access for emergency vehicles.

Grayish-brown smoke from the warehouse fire billowed hundreds of feet into the sky and could be seen from several miles away.

Fire units remained on the scene late Monday.

Staff writer Richard F. Belisle contributed to this story.

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