Meadville Tribune

July 25, 2013

Vernon Central fights own engine fire

By Keith Gushard
Meadville Tribune

VERNON TOWNSHIP — “If it hadn’t been for the fire alarm system and the sprinklers, we’d have been in deep trouble,” said Tom Benak, a trustee and an assistant chief with Vernon Central Hose Co.

Late Tuesday night, the lead engine of volunteer fire department was damaged heavily while it was parked inside the department’s station, but firemen were able to get other vehicles out of the building. Fire damage was confined to the 2001 engine/pumper, but there was smoke damage to the other parts of the crew areas of the one-story building.

On Wednesday morning, Kenneth Hamilton, a Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal, ruled the truck blaze accidental due to an electrical wiring malfunction in the crew compartment area behind the driver’s seat.

When in the garage, each of the volunteer department’s fire engines are plugged into electrical chargers to make sure portable radios and other electrical equipment onboard are fully charged when needed, officials said.

Crawford County 911 Center was alerted to the fire call at 11:45 p.m. by an automatically dialed alarm from within the department’s station on McMath Avenue.

Firefighters who arrived on the scene just minutes later were able to get other vehicles out of the truck bays, but the fire engine that was damaged — a 2001 engine pumper — was the department’s lead truck on fire calls, Chief Donnie Grinnell of Vernon Central said.

“It’s a hardship, but it won’t affect our capabilities,” Grinnell said Wednesday morning, noting that the department has another engine pumper truck, plus a tanker, a heavy rescue truck, a utility truck and an emergency squad truck. The secondary engine pumper did have some minor paint damage on one side since it was parked next to the truck that burned.

Each time there is a fire alarm within Vernon Township, both of the township’s volunteer fire departments — Vernon Central and Vernon Township — are dispatched by the county’s 911 center.

“We’ve had overwhelming offers of help already,” Grinnell said, noting some area departments have offered Vernon Central the loan of a truck if needed.

Whether none, some or all of the damaged fire engine may be salvaged wasn’t known Wednesday, Chief Donnie Grinnell said.

“It’s too early to tell,” Grinnell said. “They may be able to save the back (where the water pump is located) and replace the chassis and cab, but we won’t know until it gets looked at.”

The department is fully insured on both its trucks and equipment, Benak said. “The trucks and equipment are worth millions of dollars,” he said.

To replace the engine pumper truck would cost an estimated $600,000 plus about another $100,000 to outfit it fully in equipment, according to Benak.

Vernon Central officials estimate they lost at least $35,000 in equipment on the truck in Tuesday’s fire. Lost were about a half-dozen air masks and tanks, plus a thermal imaging camera, several portable radios and lights and assorted hand tools, Grinnell said.

Both Benak and Craig Gordon, another assistant chief, said there was thick smoke inside the building when they got there.

“I opened the (exterior) man door (on the west side of the building) and the smoke was down to about a foot above the floor,” said Gordon, who was the first to arrive. “I could see the fire, but I wasn’t sure which truck at first. I held my breath and ran over to open one of the (garage) bay doors.”

Other firefighters arrived and were able to drive the other trucks out, which then were deployed to fight the blaze.

“The sprinklers came on and that helped, too,” Benak said. “Once we were able to get water on it, it was out within minutes.”

Vernon Township, Hayfield Township, Greenwood Township, West Mead 1 and West Mead 2 volunteer fire departments all came to assist Vernon Central.

There were no injuries in the fire, Grinnell said.

Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at