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Two-alarm fire contained at Wernersville State Hospital

Emergency crews quelled a fire at the Wernersville State Hospital Thursday afternoon.

Jared Renshaw, fire commissioner, Western Berks Fire Department, said he responded to an automatic fire alarm call at the hospital dormitory at 350 Sportsman Road, South Heidelberg Township, about 2 p.m.

“When I pulled up, I saw the building being evacuated, people running away from the building, and I saw smoke showing from a third floor room,” Renshaw said.

He said he upgraded the call and requested a second alarm for additional manpower.

The fire was contained to one room, but the door was left open, so the smoke filled the hallway.

“We had crews that were forcing doors, doing searches, making sure we didn’t have anybody left on that floor,” Renshaw said.

Staff and patients were evacuated successfully, although one staff member suffered unspecified injuries and was transported by emergency services for treatment, Renshaw said.

He said crews were able to stretch lines and get water on the fire about 10 minutes after Renshaw’s arrival, but ventilating the building took longer.

“There was just so much smoke and nowhere to really push it,” Renshaw said. “We had multiple fans going through the stairwells, different floors.”

No firefighters were injured in the operation, Renshaw said.

“Western Berks EMS was there providing rehab services, they bring water, ice towels, and we switched out crews due to the heat and the longevity of the call,” Renshaw said.

The room and nearby hallways were damaged by the fire, and water damage affected the fire room and some adjoining rooms. The entire wing suffered extensive smoke damage.

The fate of the building itself, which housed about 90 patients, will be decided by management once the state police finish their investigation, he said.

In the meantime, staff at the hospital have moved the affected patients to other buildings.

“If you have some type of catastrophic event and you have to transport people, typically EMS will handle that,” Renshaw said. “But (EMS) didn’t have to do any of that, it was all being handled by (hospital) staff.”

The cause of the fire is under investigation by the state police fire marshal.

The Wernersville State Hospital was founded in 1891 as the State Asylum for the Chronic Insane. It specializes in psychiatric care and has a capacity of up to 266 patients, according to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s website.

Smoke billows from a second-story window of a brick building.
Parts of a Wernersville State Hospital dormitory suffered extensive smoke damage in a fire Thursday afternoon, June 27, 2024. (Courtesy of Jared Renshaw)


Source: Berkshire mont

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