Tuesday, February 17, 2009

King Street Block Burns, Firemen Dies

On February 17, 1969 at 3:25 p.m. firemen were alerted to what would be the largest blaze most ever battled. The Shippensburg Civil Defense room sent firemen to East King Street and North Penn Street for a building fire. A fire of suspicious origin destroyed most of a downtown block before being brought under control by approximately 200 firemen manning 19 to 22 units from 14 companies (some news papers say that as many as 500 firefighters battled the blaze). The fire started in the rear of the vacant Varsity Shop and extended quickly. Firemen performed heroically in keeping the blaze, which could be seen for miles, from engulfing the Christ United Methodist Church. The Letterkenny Fire Department was instrumental in keeping the blaze from reaching the church, by using their medallion gun to flow big water. Water was used from numerous hydrants as well as the branch stream to fight the fire.

Richard Fogelsonger, who at the time was having coffee in the Famous Texas Lunch, directly across the street from the Varsity Shop, discovered the fire. He called the Civil Defense Room and reported the fire, suggesting a general alarm be sent. A the same time Ralph Thompson pulled up in front of the Texas Lunch, he quickly raced inside and went through the apartments alerting the occupants to the danger.

The buildings involved were three story brick and frame with businesses on the first floors and apartments on the upper floors. Destroyed in the fire were the Varsity Shop, Handshew’s Shoe Repair, the Pizza House, 15 apartments and Gordon’s Department Store. The American Finance Corporation and the roof of the Methodist Church were damaged by fire. Suffering water damage were Hale’s Real Estate, Gospel Gift Shop and Shippen TV and cable. Buildings suffering smoke damage were the Arrowood Beauty Salon, Glenn Miller auto parts and the Victory Theatre. At about 3:45 p.m. West End firefighter W. Mervin Fogelsanger, 58, suffered a heart attack at the scene and died at Chambersburg Hospital, he would become Shippensburg’s first line of duty death. Several firefighters were treated for minor injuries. Approximately 17 families were left homeless by the blaze. Firemen had the blaze under control by 6:00 p.m. The Shippensburg firemen remained on the scene until late the following day. Damages were set at $310,480, earlier reports estimated that the loss could exceed $1 million.

The Vigilant Hose, Cumberland Valley Hose and West End Fire and Rescue companies answered the alarm along with assistance from the Vigilant’s Station 2, Letterkenny, Newburg-Hopewell, Newville, Fayetteville, Pleasant Hall and the Junior Hook and Ladder, Goodwill, Cumberland Valley, Friendship and Franklins all of Chambersburg. Junior McMullen of the Path Valley Fire Company brought a number of oxygen tanks to the scene. The companies operated under the direction of Borough Fire Chief Dan Orris and his assistant Edward Thrush. This was Shippensburg’s largest fire since the opposite end of the block was destroyed by fire in August 1901.

It was reported that hundreds possible even thousands came out to watch the big fire. I know I was picked up at school and taken directly to the area to watch the fire. Remember is you click on the photos they get larger. An additional photograph can be seen on last years post by following this link, http://shippensburgfiredepartment.blogspot.com/2008/02/lindsey-lot-road-home-gutted.html The video runs about eight and a half minites, it was taken from film to vhs to digital for the site. The quality is not the best but it is better than nothing, I hope you all enjoy it and I really hope to hear a few stories from people that worked the fire.


Woody said...

Good post Brad. Where did the term Medallion come from?? I never heard of that before. I assume that's a master stream device??

Anonymous said...

Brad looking at the power company truck in the first photo that brand new idea of horrible horrible chevron striping everyone hates isnt new and the idea of being seen from behind for saftey was used in 69? sorry little sarcasm.
Just how big would they have made this fire today?


Anonymous said...

Brad, what company was streching the 2 1/2 up the ladder in the last picture? I think that I have heard some stories from Charlie about this fire.

Also somebody told me that there was a fire 30 minutes after I left your firehouse.


Anonymous said...

Brad, I remember the driver of the Junior truck complaining about being set up on Penn St. He wanted to be out front flowing water. I used a picture from a newspaper in my first fire science class that showed a booster line, 1.5" and
2.5" going in the same door. Maybe should have used the big one first. I also remember the front windows of the V shop blowing out. Dont think it was a backdraft, maybe just a good flashover. Great post. TM

Bradley Myers said...

Woody, that is a term used in the newpaper article on the incident. I assume along with others I have spoken to that it was a deluge gun. Why it was called that I have no idea.

Cressler, I like the chevron striping, but then I wear a vest and am a firefighter of the modern era. Good question about this fire today, my guess is that we would not have seen as much manpower as they did but we would have had possibly three to four times the amount of fire apparatus. The biggest difference would have been in ladder trucks. One was used then today I would think maybe as many as five would have been set up. The LDH today would have delivered more water along with applying more from ladder trucks (providing it is done the right way for a change) so it is possible the fire would go out sooner.

WM, I think it was a combination of numerous companies stretching that line. I was hoping to hear from some older guys that were at the fire about the incident on here but I guess that will not be the case. It is a shame as this post took hours to complete and upload. Maybe I need to take another break from this site to get peoples attention again. Yes shortly after you left there was a job in our district.

Thanks for the comment TM, if you look at the 2ND photo on Monday's post you can see the red line comming off the back of the Quad. Big fire big water.

Seagrave said...

Brad, what a great post.
I remember standing up the street more then likely with you because of our moms being with the ladies aux. thinking that the entire town was going to burn down. As I look at the pictures I think of the beating these guys were taking fighting this fire and just utterly amazed these guys working off ground ladders and being on the roof with the fire blowing through the roof. Then the pictures of the guys working in the rear , It blows me away thinking of the heat that had to be coming off this fire and these guys in day boots ,tin helmets, many without turnout coats and very few with SCBA.

Anonymous said...

Not much more to add that hasn't already been said Brad other than great post with some great pics!


Anonymous said...

Missed the fire but here goes.
The main fire was in the basement of the Varsity Shop, The John Bean was first-in & TM's Dad gave it his best shot with one of its booster lines, that's all the Engine had for attack.
"Uncle" Jim Hockersmith is operating the '59 LaFrance in his bank president turnouts & I believe Rick Bert is standing with him in one of the photos.
Newville laid-in from the plug by the Vigilants but I forget who was at the Branch.
This was the fire which finally convinced Shippensburg it needed its own aerial. Nothing against Chambersburg but some people were tired of hearing that annoying exhaust whistle coming down King street.
Excellent post, Brad.


Ragman said...

I was only 9 1/2 yrs. old at the time of this fire. I was staying at my grandmother's house around the corner at 10 S. Penn St. during the fire. My father was at the fire and my mother was helping the auxillary. My grandmother took me down to the corner to watch "the big one". I can't imagine what it would be like to fight that fire today. Great job Brad. Keep up the great work. I will talk to Guy Flory about the fire. He may recall something from the Junior Hose Co. perspective.

Anonymous said...

The fire also destroyed the area above the Varsity Shop where the old United Telephone exchange had been.

The operators would take the fire call information, activate the sirens and give details to people who called in. I believe that's how it worked right up until the CD room & radios arrived in the mid '50s.


Seagrave said...

Ok Buck , your starting to tell your age now knowing those facts.

Anonymous said...

I was cleaning wrestling gear at the laundry mat on Burd St when the CV siren sounded, so I made it to the firehouse before the John Bean pulled out. Took a smoke ejector fan to the second floor of Gordon's. Don't think they even found the melted hulk of that thing. Remember lying on a 2 1/2 in line on the stairwell in the store and being pulled back because the fire was directly below us. Several of us left the fire to play a concert at the high school that night. Didn't see it but heard one of the Holtry boys was stepping over a line that blew and sent him several feet into the air. Turnout gear was what ever we grabbed off the racks on the trucks. Got an under-sized pair of boots that gave me some terrible blisters the next day. Don't think I understood the size nor the danger of the fire at the time- just the excitement of being there.