August 3, 2022

At 1336 hours the WVFC and multiple mutual-aid agencies assisted the Western Berks Fire Dept. at Reading Alloys, 220 Old West Penn Ave. in South Heidelberg Twp. for a building fire involving an explosion with injuries. The explosion was reported to be heard and felt in nearby Robesonia and Wernersville.

Fire Commissioner 18 arrived on scene confirming a working fire and ordered Engine 18-1 (Western Berks) to lay a supply line from one of several ponds on site while Tanker 26 (Robesonia) supplied E18-1 until Rescue/Engine 85 (Spring Twp.) could establish a water supply by drafting from the pond. Western Berks EMS arrived on scene to treat anyone injured and to provide rehab for firefighters.

Plant personnel reported numerous metals involved and some being reactive to water. They assisted fire department personnel throughout the incident with determining the best course of action with controlling and extinguishing the fire and were a great asset.

Ladder 47 arrived as the first-due truck and set up on side B of the fire building for roof and master stream operations. Crews set up ground ladders and initially took an 1 3/4” water line up the aerial ladder from Engine 34 (Newmanstown) in an effort to control the fire from spreading after it was determined to try to use as little water as possible.

Tankers from 18 and 47 were initially used for water supply for E34 however as the incident progressed a water supply from a second on-site pond was established as Engine 52 (Marion) laid a supply line from E34 and drafted out of the pond. E34 fed several handlines and L47’s ladder pipe during the incident. Engine and Attack 47 also responded to the scene.

Multiple resources and agencies were called in including the West Side Emergency Management coordinator, the PA Dept. of Environmental Protection and ARFF 1, a crash truck from the Reading Airport. ARFF 1 is equipped with 500lbs of Purple K which is a dry-chemical fire suppression agent. Fortunately, the fire was able to be extinguished without it being used. Due to the high temperatures additional fire companies from Berks, Lebanon, and Lancaster counties were brought in for manpower to rotate with the manpower on the initial alarm.

As the incident continued the fire spread into the rafters in the original building from the resulting explosion. A plan was put in place which had crews remove the paneling on the B side gable and have L47 utilizing our ladder pipe to indirectly create a water curtain to extinguish any visible fire and cool the structure. Once this was accomplished the ladder pipe was shut down and personnel entered the structure and accessed the roof with handlines to fully extinguish any hot spots.

The company was on-scene for almost 5 hours. Thanks to Tower 31 from the Keystone Fire Co. of Myerstown and Rescue/Engine 50 from the Strausstown Fire Co. for transferring to our firehouse to provide coverage for the Western Berks area during the incident.

The cause and origin of the incident is under investigation by the PA State Police Fire Marshal.

Photo Credits: Matt Clay, WVFC Members, John Sileski, David Kurtz-Womelsdorf FD Photographer

Units: Engine 47, Attack 47, Tanker 47, Ladder 47