Many of you were aware of the dramatic fire on Wednesday up at the St. Andrew's condo complex when a fire began inside one of the units there that quickly led to an explosion. What you may not be aware of is the depth of heroism and commitment exhibited by our own Fire Department volunteers who put themselves in harm's way (an understatement if there ever was one), rescued a resident from certain death, and then fought the fire successfully for hours
Chief Martin Gunther, of the Uniontown Hose Company, was first on scene shortly after a call at 8:19 in his chief vehicle. He identified the scope of the fire and called for assistance. Five men responded first to the fire, when most of us were either on our way or already at our day jobs. Captain Robert Gagliardi, firefighters Brendan Woods, Brian Woods J.P. Esposito, and Jay Aluiso were there in a matter of minutes. There was a small but smoky "active" fire in one of the units, and Chief Gunther had identified that the resident was home. Entering the condo, they heard her trapped in an elevator. They set immediately to freeing her as the apartment filled with smoke. They got her out, to a waiting ambulance (she is fine now), immediately grabbed hoses and gear, and went back in to fight the
fire. Before they had a chance to climb up to the second story, there was a tremendous explosion upstairs that blew out windows, partly collapsed the entire structure, and knocked them to the ground. This was recently confirmed to be a backdraft (or smoke) explosion. They quickly left the building, intent on fighting the fire now from the outside. (If the female resident of that unit had not been rescued when she had been, three minutes later the explosion or the subsequent raging fire would have undoubtedly taken her life.)
The explosion expelled debris so powerfully that a hunk smashed into our Hook and Ladder. I visited later that day and saw the sizable dent in the side of the cabin - about what you would expect to see if a bowling ball was propelled against the vehicle, breaking the window and deforming the side. Should someone have been in the way of that projectile, it wouldn't have ended well.
For the next five hours, all units from our Fire Department, managed ably by Chief Martin Gunther and later by Chief Russak, fought the fire and prevented it from spreading to other units. The crews displayed their training, cooperation, cool under pressure and brave throughout the entire engagement.
You have to remember one thing: each and every one of our Fire Department members are volunteers - every single one of them. They are your neighbors and fellow residents. They have jobs and families and lives like all of us, except that on a daily basis, when that horn blasts five times and their radios come to life, they may rush off to the call, Almost always, they encounter a false alarm or something benign. But sometimes, entire unpredictably, there's something for real, a resident stuck in an elevator while the house burns around her, billowing smoke, explosions, and then its not a false alarm but very much the real thing and they do what they are trained for, unflinchingly, and into the maw they go. If you think about it for more than a second, its astonishing and humbling. It's enough to make you
weep in pride and gratitude.