What was supposed to be a joyous day for area firefighters and community members of Mahanoy City turned into a tragedy for its firefighters early Saturday.
Only hours before the start of the 2013 Schuylkill County Volunteer Firefighters' Convention and sesquicentennial celebration of Mahanoy City, firefighters were called to the Washington Hook and Ladder Company (WHLC) No. 1, 35 East Mahanoy St., Mahanoy City, just after 4:30 a.m. for smoke coming from the engine room of its firehouse.
Upon arrival, police and firefighters saw flames and heavy smoke coming from the firehouse and their 1993 Simon Duplex 75-foot aerial ladder truck ablaze. The vehicle was purchased in 2011.
State Police Fire Marshal John F. Burns, Frackville barracks, who spent hours on scene investigating, said the fire started in the cab of the truck. Burns, who is expected to be back on scene sometime this week, said he wasn't able to provide a cause of the fire.
"It will be in the high hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace it," said borough Fire Chief Randy Kalce, referring to the truck.
Lt. John Kaczmarczyk, Mahanoy City Police officer and longtime member of the WHLC, was one of the first to arrive. He said he was unable to drive the ladder truck out of the bay due to the fire in the cab.
Firefighters gained control of the fire in about an hour.
"The alarms woke us up," said neighbors Ric and Karen Flynn of 34 East Mahanoy St. "All we saw were flames."
Also destroyed in the blaze were 20 packs of firefighting turnout gear and a large amount of firefighting supplies that surrounded the truck. Davis estimated that the gear alone has an estimated value around $100,000.
Kalce said 31 E. Mahanoy St., located next door to the WHLC, sustained smoke damage.
"I've never seen anything like this before," said Mahanoy City Police Chief Mark Wierkrykas, who is retiring this year after serving 15 years as chief. "This is very hard on the firefighters because they had worked so hard to gain new members and revitalize the fire company in the past few years."
"Two firefighters were injured during the call. One suffered smoke inhalation, while the other suffered bruising," said Anthony Blackwell, Mahanoy City Fire Department safety officer and public relations officer. He added that both were treated at the scene and did not require transport to a hospital.
Blackwell added that the engine room and upstairs meeting rooms sustained extensive damage.
"We spent weeks getting our station ready for the convention parade and sesquicentennial celebration," said WHLC Fire Chief Mike Matunis.
Some of the recent projects included new asphalt, new signage, cleaning and brick repointing.
Late Saturday, firefighters could be seen boarding up the burned out bay doors.
Matunis, who wasn't sure if the building is a total loss, said, the firehouse is the oldest active building in Mahanoy City.
"It was built in 1887. But I'm assuming the building's a total loss because of the damage. Where the truck is sitting, the concrete floor is sagging. The joists between the second floor and third floor are burned out."
"We only have six volunteers marching because the rest of us are worn out," said WHLC President and chief engineer Howell Davis. "And these are younger volunteers and they're ready to go."
A fund drive for the WHLC to support the fire company is set up at the M&T Bank.
"We will be back," said Al Davis, past 10-year chief and current president and chief engineer with WHLC.
"With continued support from the community, we will rise from the ashes," said Matunis.