An automatic fire alarm alert awoke residents to smoke filled hallways in the Luther House apartments in Jennersville, Penn Township early Saturday morning. That system alerted the County 911 Center who dispatched units from the West Grove Fire Company for an automatic alarm. Reports from residents of smoke upgraded the alarm to a building fire which added units from Oxford, Kennett, Avondale, and Cochranville on the assist.
The Luther House complex features three and four-story buildings with individual apartments.
Deputy and Chief 22 arrived on the scene quickly, establishing command and beginning their scene survey. Making their way to the third floor, they discovered heavier smoke conditions and a working fire in a single apartment, with residents evacuating.
Engine 22-1 arrived as the first-due engine, laying in from the hydrant at the entrance to the complex. Crews then pulled a 300' pre-connected attack line, which was extended to 400' with a Cleveland load. Crews took the line to the third floor and attacked the fire. This longer, pre-connected attack line is installed on each WGFC engine for this type of scenario, when entering a building and working up several floors requires longer-than-normal hose line length.
This fire was a "textbook" example of the importance of fire sprinkler systems. A working fire was held at bay, and limited to the room of origin by the automatic sprinklers, and then WGFC crews extinguished the fire. This is why the WGFC and fire departments across the country are so insistent on working sprinklers -- in this case, they held the fire's spread, and potentially saved many lives.
While Engine 22's crew were working, Ladder 22 arrived and raised its ladder to the roof. Additional engines from 22 and neighboring companies also arrived to assist with primary and secondary search, smoke ventilation, lighting, checking for extension, and helping residents down stairs and out of the building.
In a situation like this, with a high concentration of residents (many elderly), a significant EMS operation was established, coordinated by EMS Chief Gary Vinnecome. That team was responsible for coordinating resident evaluations and triage, and establishing a rehab operatio. It was supported by numerous EMS crews from West Grove, Oxford, and Avondale ambulances, as well both Medic 94 units, examined and monitored residents for smoke inhalation and stress. That operation was further supported by County Dept. of Emergency Services Asst. Director Crowding and local emergency management coordinator Chuck Freese, who worked with Luther House staff on resident placement and well-being.
Ladder trucks from Kennett and Oxford also laddered the building and crews checked for fire extension near the fire origination and on the roof. Crews from those ladder trucks and Rescue 22 performed primary searches of the entire third floor, locating some residents still in apartments and helping them to safety. Other crews performed searches of the entire building, helped with overhaul and handled ventilation.
Fortunately, there were no injuries. The Red Cross and Luther House are assisting 21 residents who have been displaced by this fire until smoke and water damage can allow that wing of the building to be reopened.