Fire chief: Department responded to nearly 200 calls in 2010

PUNXSUTAWNEY — The Punxsutawney Fire Department had a very busy 2010 as firefighters responded to 183 calls. Punxsutawney Fire Department Chief Paul Hense reported to Punxsutawney Borough Council at a recent meeting that firefighters responded to 20 structure fires in 2010.

“The two biggest fires in 2010 were the house fire Nov. 2 on Graffius Avenue, and the New Anchor Inn fire Nov. 8 on Route 310,” Hense said, adding that weather was not very good while firefighters battled the blaze at the historic restaurant.

The two fires occurred within a week of each other and caused a considerable amount of damage to the two structures.

Hense noted that with the Anchor Inn fire, firefighters experienced a relatively new problem with the advent of steel roofs, and how those kinds of roofs can affect how well a fire is fought.

“Steel roofs keep the heat and fire trapped inside the structure,” Hense explained. “With shingle roofs, the fire usually breaks through and ventilates itself.

“A steel roof keeps the fire much hotter, and it gives firefighters a false sense of security that they can walk on it,” Hense added. “There might only be that thin piece of metal that is left after the wood burns up, which makes it very hazardous for firefighters, and it is difficult to ventilate it.”

Hense said that during the workday, it’s difficult to get crews together with so many members working out of town. He said that there’s a need for mutual aid with other area fire companies, especially for structure fires.

“Our fire boxes (designate the location of an emergency) that the department officers set up. If there’s a report of smoke or fire in the structure, as soon as the alarm is pulled, the responders have the McCalmont Township Volunteer Fire Company on standby at Central and the Big Run Area Volunteer Fire Company automatically dispatch at the Central Fire Department as the Rapid Intervention Team (RIT),” he said. “The RIT has the backs of our interior firefighters, which came about as the result of two Pittsburgh firefighters who were trapped in the basement of a structure and died. If somebody is in trouble, they (the RIT) are specially equipped and trained to go in and rescue firefighters out of a burning structure.”

According to Hense, the department also responded to 45 motor vehicle accidents within the past year. He pointed out that since the 911 system came into effect, the department has responded to a lot of motor vehicle accidents.

“The amount of accidents is seasonal and depends a lot on the weather,” Hense explained. “The most severe accidents occur during the summer months because people are able to travel at a higher speed. If the initial call to 911 informs the dispatcher that there’s entrapment, then all three companies are called.”

Hense added that the department assisted other fire departments with 28 mutual aid calls.

“We assist at a lot of rural fire scenes with our tankers and aerial apparatus, Tower 40,” Hense said. “We’re quite busy with mutual aid, especially during brush fire season, which typically occurs toward the end of winter and continues until the vegetation begins to turn green. Elk Run’s brush truck, that was obtained through DCNR, has proven to be quite valuable in battling these types of fires which can burn many acres of brush in just a few minutes.”

Hense added that a priority for his department right now is to replace Engine 30-1, a 1981 Mack Engine for the Elk Run Fire Company.

“The department officers met this past week to discuss what we’d like to see the new truck contain,” Hense said. “We’re going to meet with three fire truck manufacturers, and from there will come up with the specs for the new truck. Hopefully, we can have it ready to go out to bid by February’s council meeting.”

Hense added that the average cost of a new engine is $300,000.

“The cost of new apparatus will only continue to rise in price due to the change in emission standards,” he said. “I think getting 30 years out of an apparatus is pretty good. Fortunately, it is still a functional piece of equipment, and it is costing us a lot of money in maintenance.”

Hense thanked all the members who volunteer their time and respond to calls no matter what time of day or night it is.