Firefighter injured in fire at maintenance building

WELLSBORO —  A Mansfield firefighter suffered minor injuries when a portion of the brick facade of a building fell on him as he attempted to adjust a hose line around a maintenance garage that caught fire Monday afternoon.

Terry Williams, of Mansfield, was examined for a concussion at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hospital/UPMC Susquehanna, but he was treated and released with symptoms, Mansfield Fire Chief Jim Welch said.

“He had his helmet on and it saved him from any serious injuries,” Welch added.

“As our crews got in, they were going to the area to help and the section came down right as he was stepping toward the building,” he added.

According to Wellsboro Fire Department Chief Lonnie Campbell, Williams was out of the hospital the same day after receiving treatment for his injuries, which did not include smoke inhalation, noting a social media post had indicated he had suffered from smoke inhalation.

The cause of the fire, which started near the rear of the county’s department of human services garage behind the main building on Shumway Hill Road, is not known due to the extent of the damage, Campbell said.

“We are calling it accidental but undetermined,” Campbell said.

Fred Gorge, the head maintenance supervisor who was working in the office portion of the building, said he heard some noises that he initially thought were car doors closing outside, but then heard a “pop” that caught his attention,

“He exited the office and could see in the main garage area the smoke was filling the area and fire already was traveling across the ceiling,” Campbell said.

The 40- by 60-foot maintenance shop, about 30 years old, was only 20 feet from the fiscal building, which firefighters were able to save, Campbell said.

Inside the maintenance building was a utility terrain vehicle used for off road transportation, tools, and storage for maintenance operations, paints, solvents, gasoline, and other fuels for portable equipment, Campbell said.

There were “a few small explosions, but no cutting torches or large cylinders of compressed gas,” he added.

Gorge immediately called 911 and went to the building next door to evacuate the employees inside, as the roof on the maintenance building already was beginning to collapse.

Campbell said gaining access to the scene was more of a problem than anything else as the fire broke out around 3 p.m. just as school was letting out so traffic was heavy and some people who saw the smoke drove up Shumway Hill Road to see what was going on.

“We knew as soon as we pulled in it was going to be a total loss, and once roof caved in the flames enveloped some overhead power lines and we couldn’t get close enough to protect the other building,” he added.

Fortunately, he said the wind was blowing the flames away from the other building in the first five minutes, giving them enough time to get a pumper in from the opposite direction to start protecting the exposed building.

“Things got really sketchy in a hurry when the wind shifted and we saw shingles smoking and siding beginning to melt on the exposed building,” he added.

Campbell said seconds really counted as there were no hydrants on that end of the property, so they needed to access a hydrant at the detention building and by then Wellsboro Electric Co. had de-energized the power lines.

“We had one powerline come down, and the others were burnt so badly I expected them to come down, but they held together,” Campbell said.

Wellsboro Electric crews remained on scene replacing the wire to restore power to the building once the fire was extinguished and fire crews left the scene around 6 p.m., Campbell added.

“They also monitored another set of lines behind the building.”

Wellsboro was assisted by Mansfield and Middlebury coming into assist, with about 30 firefighters on scene.

There were no other injuries, and the building was insured, Campbell said.

Blossburg Fire Department, who was standing by at Wellsboro, was dispatched in the middle of the event to put out a chimney fire on Mills Hill Road, Charleston Township about 5 p.m., Campbell said.

It was contained to the chimney, so they were able to get it out with assistance from an engine and crew from the Wellsboro scene.