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History of Freeland, Pa.
Major fires in Freeland Borough
The Freeland Fire Department celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2008. To celebrate and commemorate the fine work of the fire department, Cal Herring is compiling a narrative of its history. Parts of that history are being posted here as I receive them from him. Please feel free to contact Cal Herring with comments and corrections.

The image above left comes from the Sanborn fire insurance map of 1895. The maps documented a town's vulnerability to fire and the nature of its fire protection.

Major Fires in the History of Freeland Borough

-- Compiled by Cal Herring

Dedication: The Freeland Fire Department has had the misfortune to lose two firefighters in the line of duty to their community. The Freeland Fire Department would like at this time to pay tribute to the memories of:
Joseph Stepansky, Sr. of the Citizens Hose Co. He passed while fighting a fire at the Third Ward Playground on the night of May 30, 1964.

Michael E. Karnatski of the Citizens Hose Co. He passed while fighting a fire at 1044 Birkbeck St. on the evening of April 9, 1974.

There have been many fires serious fires throughout the 125 year history of this department. For some of these incidents the records are either non existent or incomplete. The following narrative has been compiled from the information contained in our 100th Anniversary Book and from newspaper and eyewitness reports over the past 25 years.

January 2, 1922 - Stasko Property Heavy damage was inflicted to the Stasko Property at Adams & Carbon Sts. High winds and bitter cold temperatures hindered firefighting operations. Also on this corner during the winter of 1977 a fire destroyed a double family frame dwelling in similar conditions.

January 12, 1922 - Apartment House An apartment building on the O'Donnell property at Centre & Main Sts. was heavily damaged by fire

June 9, 1938 - Young Mansion. Defective wiring caused a fire in a wing of the Young Mansion on Windy Hill, Drifton Section of Hazle Twp. The Freeland Fire Department was the primary fire protection agency for this area at this time

March 12, 1939 - Hyman Kline Store Fire at the Hyman Kline Store, location unknown, was caused by a defective chimney

April 15, 1941 - Ingram St. Property A fire caused heavy damage to a double family frame dwelling at 708-710 Ingram St. and damaged several other adjacent properties

February 12, 1952 - Chestnut St. Apartment At 9:25 pm a fire was discovered in a four family apartment building at 718 Chestnut St. The structure was completely destroyed. Citizens and Fourth Ward firefighters had assistance from White Haven, Drifton Scotch Hill, and Diamond # 2 of Hazleton

October 12, 1963 - Marchetti Furniture Store Shortly after 11:45 pm on this Saturday night, Police Officer John Barna noticed flames in the vicinity of the Marchetti Furniture Store located in the 400 block of Center St. First arriving firefighters found the third floor and cockloft area heavily involved in fire. Assistance from other fire departments was immediately summoned due to the high winds and close proximity of near by structures. Responding to the incident were fire companies from Foster Twp., Drifton Scotch Hill, White Haven, and the Diamond #2 of Hazleton City. Before the fire was declared under control the Marchetti Furniture Store and the adjoining Marchetti Plumbing and Heating Company were heavily damaged. This was the first of three major fires on the Northside with the second being the MMI Preparatory School occurring on 6/10/06 just over the borough line in Foster Twp.

July 31, 1964 - Davis Feed Mill At 5:30 pm on a Friday evening fire erupted at the Davis Feel Mill Property at Birkbeck Sts. Responding firefighters found visible fire coming from the feed mill and a section of the adjacent Ira Berger & Sons Lumber Co. Fire in the lumber yard was quickly extinguished but the four story feed mill was quickly involved in fire. Mutual aid was received from Foster Twp., Drifton Scotch Hill, White Haven, Butler Twp., and Diamond #2 of Hazleton City. The fire was declared under control at 7:55 pm but firefighters remained on the scene throughout the night. The feed mill was destroyed and the lumber yard damaged in one of Freeland's most spectacular blazes

February 23, 1974 - A & P Store Fire The Freeland A & P Store was 75' x 100', four stories high, and represented one of Freeland's largest buildings. At 4:40 am on a cold Saturday morning with northerly wind gusts of up to 35 mph, Freeland's most disastrous fire began. A piece of aluminum siding torn free by the wind began striking a 7,200 volt electrical line located on the northwest corner of the structure. Interior structural members ignited and burned unnoticed for an estimated thirty minutes before being discovered by neighbors and police officers. To the first arriving firefighters the fire appeared to be localized. However unknown to anyone the fire had already advanced into the top floor and was spreading in the interior of the structure. Before a sufficient fire flow could be established the entire fourth floor and roof became fully involved. Quickly the fire spread downward and engulfed the entire structure. With the danger of structural collapse, firefighting operations had to be suspended to reposition fire apparatus and within forty minutes of the initial alarm the front brick wall collapsed into Front St.

Upon the collapse of the remaining walls, radiant heat ignited five additional buildings in the immediate area. Also electrical service lines in the immediate area either burned or came falling into the street. This created the additional problem because there was now no electrical service to the pumping operations of the Freeland Municipal Authority. With water supplies becoming low and the fire still out of control, mutual aid was called for all tankers within a twenty mile radius.

The flames eventually began to subside and the fire was declared under control at 9:30 am with final extinguishment not being completed until Tuesday morning. Destroyed in the fire were the A & P Store and a three family home located to the west of the store. Four additional buildings were damaged, eleven people left homeless, and damage estimates ran as high as $700,000, the highest loss in Freeland history. A total of twenty three fire companies and over 250 firefighters were involved in the firefighting operation with over one million gallons of water being needed for final extinguishment

February 1, 1977 - 120 Main St., Drifton Section, Hazle Twp. At 10:00 am fire claimed the life of an elderly man at 120 Main St., Drifton, Hazle Twp. The body was discovered after the fire had been extinguished. Damage to the dwelling was confined to the first floor area. The Freeland Fire Department provided fire protection to this area at the time under contract with Hazle Twp.

May 27, 1980 - Jeddo Shops At midnight this date, fire was reported at the Jeddo Shops Complex of the Jeddo-Highland Coal Co. The site was an abandoned coal equipment repair and maintenance facility that was located in Jeddo Borough. The Freeland Fire Department is the primary fire protection service to this municipality. Upon arrival two of the three buildings were fully involved and a third building had just ignited. This building became a major concern since it contained approximately five tons of ammonium nitrate which is used for blasting operations. With an inadequate hydrant system, fifteen tankers from the Mutual Aid system were utilized to provide water for extinguishment. Despite this problem, the third building was saved. Department personnel were on the scene for three days prior to being released

February 25, 1983 - Freeland Dress Co. (Folon Recycling) Fire With the Department beginning its 100th. Anniversary, a rapidly spreading fire feeding on a heavy fire load destroyed this paper and plastic recycling operation on Birkbeck St. The fire easily equaled the A & P Store and ironically occurred almost nine years to the day later. The fire resulted in the response of thirty-four pieces of fire apparatus and over two hundred firefighters from thirteen companies in the Suburban Mutual Aid Network.

The plant was of mill type construction and measured 65' x 150' and was three stories high. The alarm was received at 7:22 pm and was heavily involved upon arrival. The fire spread was so rapid that Fire Chief John "Jeff" Teliho struck a fourth alarm by 7:27 pm.

A large building with a large fire load and heavily involved in fire was not the only problem facing firefighters. The building was surrounded by major exposure problems. Multiple residential properties, some as close as fifteen feet away, as well as the Berger Lumber Complex (which survived the Davis Feed Mill Fire in 1964) and the Freeland Municipal Authority compounded the situation.

Just twenty minutes after the initial alarm, walls began to collapse multiplying the exposure problem. Special calls were placed for additional engine companies and tankers to assist with the dwindling water supply. At the height of the fire ten engines worked to supply a 4,000 GPM fire flow, 1000 GPM of which came from tankers

The fire was brought under control at 11:32 pm although it was not finally extinguished until the following Tuesday. The fire used more water than any other fire in Freeland history as the municipal supply was taxed to its limit. Only though training and an effective mutual aid system was damage held to the building of origin. Exposure damage was limited to several broken windows along with some minor water and roof damage

December 22, 1986 - 1136 Birkbeck St. Apartment Building A large three story apartment at the corner of Birkbeck & Alvin Sts. was destroyed during this 12:14 pm blaze just before the holiday season. A second alarm assignment was struck bring mutual aid units from surrounding communities to assist in combating this stubborn fire. The fire started when a resident was working on a go cart in the basement which ignited gasoline in the area. Two firefighters were removed from the building through windows when their exit route was cut off by the fast moving fire

July 31, 1987 - 628-630 Centre St. This early Friday evening fire began in a Laundromat that occupied the first floor of this commercial structure. Previously occupants of the building were a pizzeria and Feissner Hardware. Firefighters arrived to heavy fire conditions throughout the building with exposure problems within 3 feet on both sides. Chief John 'Jeff" Teliho immediately struck a third alarm which brought seven additional engine companies and an additional truck company plus numerous support vehicles to the scene. A deluge gun was utilized to control the heavy fire until interior attack lines could be placed into operation and the building ventilated. Four 5" supply lines were utilized and the two ladders trucks accessed both the fire building and the exposures. Due to the training of the firefighters and the tactics employed, the fire was confined to the building of origin and was eventually repaired

October 17, 1995 - 418 Centre St. During the predawn hours the Freeland Fire Department was dispatched to a working structure at this occupied personal care home. The building was a three story wood frame structure with identical exposure buildings on both sides within proximity of three feet. Deputy Chief Cal Herring arrived to find the rear of the structure heavily involved in fire with a report of occupants trapped. Engine 53 operated by Engineer William Kuklis, was first arriving and took a position in the rear. Captain Joseph J. Stepansky and Firefighter Richard Lindsey advanced a line to the rear and began fire attack in order to obtain entry. Firefighter Darrin Herbener and Foster Firefighter William Feissner III advanced a second hand line to protect the exposures. At this time the electrical service line to the structure burned through dropping to the rear of Captain Stepansky and Firefighter Lindsey. Undeterred both continued to battle the fire in an attempt to access the building in order to perform a search for the trapped occupant. Ladder 57 arrived on scene and took a position in the front of the structure. Immediately the main ladder was placed in operation with the truck team ventilating the roof. Captain Stepansky and Firefighter Lindsey controlled the fire sufficiently to gain access to the building and then located the occupant who they removed to safety. A third alarm was struck which dispatched ten additional engine companies, two additional truck companies, and numerous support units. The exposure buildings received only minor damage and the fire building was repaired and reoccupied. Captain Stepansky and Firefighter Lindsey were both cited for their courage in placing themselves in harm's way in order to perform the most heroic and dramatic rescue from fire in the history of the department

June 23, 1996 - Tornado Early on this Saturday evening threatening storm clouds gathered to the northwest of the borough and within minutes a tornado touched down. It began on Schwabe St. and advanced thorough the business district of the community. Trees were uprooted, roofs torn off, and utility wires ripped from their poles in one of the most unusual and unfortunate events in the history of Freeland Borough. Luzerne County Emergency Management Agency was immediately dispatched and coordinated the control, mitigation, and clean up effort. A full third alarm assignment was dispatched with companies assigned to sectors in order to evacuate those who buildings were damaged and to control any hazardous conditions. The magnitude of the storm could be witnessed in the 400 block of Center St. where an automobile was lifted off the ground by the twister and placed on a 100 square foot piece of roofing material that was ripped off on a building 500 ft. away

October 22, 2000 - Rustic Lounge 300 Block Centre St. On this brisk Sunday Morning a structure fire was reported in this former tavern. First arriving engine and truck companies arrived to find a working fire in the second floor with exposure buildings in close proximity on both sides. An aggressive interior attack was made on the fire which confined the fire to the area of origin with some extension to the third floor. Numerous hand lines were placed in service, three 5" supply lines were utilized, and the roof ventilated during the fire attack. Chief Mark "Sam" Sosar utilized a third alarm assignment to control the fire

September 27, 2002 - Krause Building Birkbeck & Schwabe Sts. During a tropical storm the Freeland Fire Department along with a third alarm assignment battled not only this fire but the elements of heavy rain and high winds. This building, one of the oldest in the borough, was utilized as a hotel, boarding house, and apartment building and was heavily involved in fire upon the arrival of both engines and the truck company from the department. A defensive exterior operation was utilized employing two aerial master streams and numerous ground based deluge guns. The building was heavily damaged in a previous fire on 2/16/01 which for the safety of the firefighters eliminated the possibility of an interior attack

January 3, 2005 - Freeland Senior Citizens Center 701 Chestnut St. On this mild winter evening the Freeland Fire Department was dispatched to the an automatic fire alarm at the Senior Citizens Center. The first arriving engine company encountered smoke conditions at it responded from the fire station a block away. The smoke was so heavy that the firefighters advancing the initial attack line had difficulty in locating the access doors to the structure. Due to heavy interior fire which created a large overhaul operation a second alarm was struck

January 19, 2005 - 928 Pine St. For the second time in a month a working structure fire occurred in the borough. During heavy snow squalls the Freeland Fire Department along with a second alarm assignment battled this stubborn and smoky fire. Due to the construction of this residence the fire found numerous void spaces which spread the fire quickly throughout. Firefighters aggressively attacked this fire until it was determined that the building was no longer safe. Two residential properties within close proximity were monitored with firefighters and hand lines in place

February 1, 2005 - Apartment Building 502-506 Washington St. Freeland firefighters were dispatched to its third working structure fire within a month and upon arrival had heavy fire from a first floor apartment. Due to reports of occupants still inside the building the initial attack line was placed to control the open stair well to protect firefighters searching the floors above. All searches proved negative and the fire was held to the apartment of origin. A second alarm assignment was utilized in containing the fire and performing overhaul

May 22, 20008 - Apartment Building 702 Center St. Motorists on Center St. noticed smoke coming from this three story apartment building at the corner of Center & Front Sts. First arriving units found smoke conditions from a second floor apartment and placed hand lines in service to contain the fire. The fire was contained to the apartment of origin

Mutual Aid Responses

-- Compiled by Cal Herring

The Freeland Fire Department responds to incidents outside of the Freeland and Jeddo Boroughs to assist during fire and emergency incidents. Some of the more noteworthy responses are listed below:

1964 - MMI Preparatory School, Foster Twp.

1967 - Griffith Lumber Yard, Foster Twp.

1967 - Hotel Fire, White Haven

1967 -Hardware Store, White Haven

1971 - Methodist Church, White Haven

1973 - Drifton Shops, Foster/Hazle Twp.

1979 - Ugly Mug Restaurant, White Haven

1984 - Jeddo #7 Breaker, Hazle Twp.

1984 - Fearnots Fire Station Fire, Foster Twp.

1985 - Valmont Plaza Fire, West Hazleton

12/23/1987 - Main St. White Haven. The largest fire the Freeland Fire Department responded to destroyed almost an entire block of the business district of White Haven. Freeland firefighters and apparatus were on the scene for 15 hours during one of the largest fires to ever occur in Lower Luzerne County.

1989 - Genetti's Dinner Theatre, Hazle Twp.

1989 - Carbon St., Weatherly

1990 - Humenick's Wood Working, Packer Twp.

1990 - Fritzingertown Nursing Home, Butler Twp.

1991 - The Cabin Restaurant, Butler Twp.

1992 - Tornado, McAdoo and Kline Twp.

1993 - Candlelight Inn, Weatherly

1993 - Slusser Bros. Offices, 800 Ridge Ave., Hazle Twp.

1993 - Gillespie Fire, Sugarloaf Twp.

1994 - Berger Lumber Yard, Foster Twp.

1994 - Faith Assmebly of God Church, Hazle Twp.

1996 - Former Keystone Fire Station, Kennedy Dr., McAdoo

1996 - Ebervale Post Office, Hazle Twp.

1997 - Rittenhouse Place, Butler Twp.

2006 - Fun Shoe Factory, West Hazleton

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