March 26 ,2016 will go down in memory's in Penn Hills and Allegheny County after the former Rivers Edge Restaurant in its latest reincarnation as Vicinos Italian Restaurant burned to the ground and taught several valuable lessons to Firefighters .Who did not know about a sub basement and almost cost them their lives. When 7 where trapped and 3 injured Their training kicked in and they got out alive. This was one of the biggest baddest and scariest fire's in the history of Penn Hills.
and it will not be the last
In the Construction Trades one of the valuable lessons you learn on a construction site is " know whats under your feet ". Know that the floor is solid the beam or board your about to walk on is solid
the tiles you walk on have not just been set and are drying etc. so you do not injure yourself and end up in a basement hurt or dead. many a construction worker has ignored this rule and paid the price I paid this price when a set of wooden steps improperly reinforced came out from under me in 1992 causing me to fall 12 feet to a wooden floor and crushing my heal resulting in a life time of pain and 2 plates and seven screws in it and permanent disability , but building owners and general Contractors fail everyday to follow the rule of time and allowing proper amount of time for construction to take place this gets people hurt and killed and caused many fires and collapses.
and so now you have Firefighters who have become victims of the rule of the late Francis Brannigan The father of modern Construction as he was known in Fire service " The Building is The Enemy Know the Enemy" a good rule to know as a construction worker as well.
The Rivers Edge as it was known for many years and was owned by a man named Sonny Casale who Ironically died on the day fire started he started the restaurant
some time in 50's and was added on to several times over the years with an apartment on top. One of the additions My dad and I did the electrical wiring in back around 1969 when I was a 10 yr old child and my dad had his own electrical company which he closed before I started mine as he had a full time job as an Electrician at J&L / LTV Steel
I knew about that sub basement but was in Altoona when the fire broke out and even had I been in town and known of the fire and called the chief would he have heard my phone call already being overwhelmed with problems on scene including lack of sufficient water to put out the fire . The firefighters responding did not know about the sub basement but should have but so many buildings go unchecked because firefighters are volunteers and do not have the time to check each and every business, let alone all the changes the place has gone thru over the years as it changed hands several times as well as sat vacant for long periods after it was the Rivers Edge. A restaurateur named Mike Roman tried to make a go of it and the venture failed in under a year and the latest venture Vincinos closed last year after the two partners got into a dispute and closed it within 6 months of opening so there have been several remodels over the years.
No one on sight knew the building upon initial attack and No one knew the fire was burning for a long period in the sub basement just waiting to burst out and explode right under their feet. Would a thermal camera of the floor have helped them determine a sub basement was underneath full of fire ? This I can not answer But it is a question that needs to be answered is it a tool which can prevent these kind of issues ? As so many firefighters have been trapped and killed in basements and sub basements or have fallen thru floors into them. 4 Firefighters lost their lives just a short piece up the river from Penn Hills in early 90's in Harrison Hills when a concrete floor collapsed under them because a fire had been burning underneath for hours With all the new technology out there we need something which will allow firefighters to better see what they are facing
This is where building construction knowledge is essential the fire academy's offer building and structure classes but most firefighters want to slay the dragon and take the structure burn class than sit in class and look at pictures of building interiors and how they are put together. Just a good solid walk around when on scene can reveal many details to the trained eye when coming upon an unfamiliar building but in the chaos which consumes the fire ground there is often not time to do it.
Add in the fact you have an apartment upstairs to worry about if it was occupied or not and little amount of water . This fire time was the enemy.
Yes some community's have an excellent computer based program gives firefighters every thing they need to know about a property and Penn Hills doe not have that kind of money it takes to build and maintain such a service. But they have appointed a new Fire Marshal who is doing everything he can to make it a better community including whats going on in buildings and working hand in hand with firefighters .He even put in place" The Compliance Engine" Program to help track building fire alarm inspections his efforts also includes showing up at fires to provide this knowledge and providing information on whats in the buildings But in this case timing was everything. Firefighters where already well into the attack and things went wrong fast before information could be disseminated by the Fire Marshal.
So to this is where Code Enforcement dept needs to be a player as well and should be working hand in hand with the firefighters but again this dept has all new inspectors since the older ones have retired and where adequate records even kept before these inspectors took there position ? In many cases it is not possible because as soon as the inspector signs off and allows a business to open some back door hack contractor is inside putting up walls and cutting in door ways etc with out the building inspectors knowledge and it goes on everywhere. The new inspectors are well trained and trying to help with being part of the solution which is fantastic that that Code Enforcement ,Fire marshal and Firefighters are working together to make it safer for all .
People have been quick to criticize Chief Snyder for the way he ran the fire you could not have had a better chief running it he has many hours of training and I have been beside him as a working Driver/ Engineer at some big fires and he was presented with so many obstacles so fast that he had to make in a split second with out second guessing . Its easy to arm chair fire chief I know plenty of fire chiefs would have needed to change their shorts coming up on a fire like this. Again Chiefs Snyders training and Knowledge kicked in. and many lessons learned
It was a brilliant on his part to start the tanker loop as fast as he did and to bring in Greensburg Foam Unit He ultimately saved lives and protected surrounding properties because of his decisions including calling immediately for a RIT team he should be praised not criticized.
It would be nice if the fire dept could pull up and have X-ray Vision and be able to see whats going on inside but thats not possible thats where common sense and skills developed over many years is your best friend in this case that training paid off and the firefighters got out alive when fighting a fire always expect the unexpected and be ready for it.
Thats why it is essential that firefighters learn how buildings are constructed and attend these classes which many do not to their detriment. which brings my saying " The Fire Service is its own worst enemy. "
Know the rules.
The Building is the Enemy Know the Enemy
Know Whats Under Your Feet.
Time is your Biggest Enemy -Be ready for anything
Know the Fire Service is its own worst enemy - and you need to educate yourself on everything you can so when you find your self in a bad situation you are able to get out of it.