Greencastle pitches in to help when fire displaces five families

January 27, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH


A fire Thursday morning in Greencastle destroyed a three-story building at one of the town's main intersections, but residents of the small community refused to allow the blaze to destroy their spirit.

Rather, they chose to rally around their neighbors and emergency responders.

One of those responders, a firefighter from nearby Waynesboro, Pa., suffered burns to the face and neck when hot debris fell from the roof of 5 S. Washington St. early in the firefighters' attack on the blaze.

"We put a lot of emphasis on being safe, but things can still happen," Waynesboro Fire Chief Ron Flegel said.

Flegel declined to identify the firefighter but said he was treated at Waynesboro Hospital and released.

Electrical problems likely sparked the fire at 5 a.m. in the brick building at the intersection of Pa. 16 and Washington Street, said Jeffrey Sarver, a Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal.


Thirteen people from five families safely evacuated the building.

Fire crews from Rescue Hose Co. of Greencastle and MMP&W of Mercersburg, Pa., returned to the scene shortly after 9 p.m. to deal with a hot spot. Additional flames could be seen originating from the upper part of the building.

"The thing's been smoldering all day," said Dave Hann, assistant fire chief with Rescue Hose Co.

The blaze originally broke out in the southwest part of the structure, in an attic, Sarver said.

Two businesses, R & M Computers and MorningStar: A Perfect Gift, operated from the first floor. Other businesses were looking to move in soon, according to Bill Gour, director of Greencastle-Antrim Chamber of Commerce.

Many area residents spent the day near the now-condemned building, gathering on the streets, some of which will remain closed indefinitely.

Sarver said the rear of the building fully collapsed and the front had a partial collapse. The fire caused $450,000 in damage, he said.

There is a "distinct possibility of secondary collapse," Sarver said.

While the rest of the roof collapsed into the building, a piece of ornamental woodwork broke off and fell onto the fireman, who was on ground level, Flegel said.

"He was in full protective gear," he said.

About two blocks of Pa. 16 and Washington Street are closed around the building to keep debris from striking passing vehicles. Sarver said the building's owner, Kevin Stephen McDermott of Frederick, Md., will have to work with his insurance company to determine how the building will be demolished.

One of the detours takes motorists down Franklin Street and past another charred building. Joe and Joan Bowser and their grandson were killed in a fire there in December.

The firefighters who controlled the hot spot late Thursday attempted to do so by moving around debris.

Hann explained that any additional water poured on the building increased the possibility of collapse.

Two neighboring buildings, including one which has four apartments, would be in danger if that happened, he said.

Ice covered the remains of the structure.

Community togetherness

The post office across the street from the building had its lobby filled with food and coffee provided for the firefighters by local businesses.

"We actually made over 100 sandwiches. It's something I wanted to do. The firefighters were working so hard," Todd Bingaman said.

Bingaman and his wife, Johnna, purchased Antrim House Family Restaurant in August 2005.

"The more we're here in Greencastle, the more we love it. People rushed to help," he said.

Other businesses that provided assistance included Kline's Grocery, Cup O' Joe and Wolf's Bakery.

"Of course, we're glad to help out. The firefighters are here helping out our community. We appreciate that," said Karl Wolf, owner of the bakery.

He said he received expressions of thanks from many of the firefighters whether he knew them or not.

"It's kind of a simple little community thing there to help the firemen out," Wolf said.

Kevin Barnes, fire chief of Rescue Hose Co., said the community's response to the fire was no different than others.

"We had support today from local businesses and organizations. I've never been disappointed by the response," he said.

Firefighters were on the scene Thursday for more than six hours, according to Barnes.

He said there were as many as 70 on the scene at points.

Diana Catron, 17, heard the firetrucks passing her home on Baltimore Street in the morning and went outside to talk to fire officials.

"I asked them if they needed water or anything," she said.

In another fire, Catron took the firefighters an entire case of bottled water "just to help out."

Her friend, May Wachs, 15, has seen similar support following past fires.

"In times like this, people pull together," said Dianne Smith. "You'd be surprised the outpouring of the citizens."

Smith surveyed the damage at the site midafternoon Thursday. A former resident of the building herself, she knew many of the families affected by the blaze.

Rhoda Stickel, who used to live next to the building, also shared concern about the tenants.

"I used to know a couple people who lived in that building," she said.

Kathy Felker, a representative of the American Red Cross, said the families displaced by the fire were taken care of for the evening. Someone from the Red Cross will meet with the families today, she said.

Felker recommends people wanting to help those families send monetary donations to the Red Cross, Franklin County Chapter at 25 Penncraft Ave., Chambersburg, PA 17201.

Donations should be designated for "local disaster."

The Red Cross does not accept clothes or other donations, she said.

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