At 11:31pm on Wednesday, September 13, 2023, The Union Fire Company No. 1 was alerted for the Fire Alarm at 31 South Third Street in Oxford Borough with the report of an Alarm sounding in the background. Within one minute, the nature of the call was changed to a Building Fire with the reporting party stating that there was an active fire, as multiple other calls that were received to the Chester County 911 Center.
The upgrade re-alerted Station 21, added Cecil Station 8 (Rising Sun), Station 22 (West Grove), Rescue 27 (Cochranville) and Lancaster Rescue 57 (Quarryville) for the Rapid Intervention Team. The Oxford Borough Police Department arrived almost immediately and began to evacuate residents in the apartments of the nearby buildings, along with the EMS Staff of Station 21. As part of these searches, a structural collapse of the building to the rear was also reported.
Chief 21 (Booth) went responding and reported flames in the sky from more than a mile out, as an Operations talk-group and the Working Fire Dispatch were requested. Upon arrival, Chief Booth established the "Third Street Command" and set up at the corner of 3rd and Locust Streets.
Engine 21-1 responded under the direction of Captain Dylan Kane with a crew of 5 and took the First Due Engine Assignment on Side Alpha, laying a supply line from the hydrant at 3rd and Locust Streets. The Engine pulled just past the main fire building to give the best access to the incoming Truck Companies. The crew led off with the 300' 1 ¾ handline and advanced it to the 3rd floor apartments of the Dubarry Building.
Ladder 21 (Lieutenant JP Bennett) arrived as the First Due Truck and took a position North of the fire building, as the operator prepared to set up the aerial. The crew threw ground ladders and entered the building for searches.
Engine 21-2 (Lieutenant August Testa) arrived as the Second Due Engine and sent their crew to assist the first in crews with the fire attack, as a second 1 ¾ handline was advanced into the building. The operator completed the water supply for Engine 21-1 and later assisted with ladder pipe operations.
In short order, both the Second and Third Alarms were transmitted to request additional resources from numerous companies from Chester, Lancaster and Cecil Counties. Comm-1, the Mobile Command Unit for the Chester County Department of Emergency Services, was also requested to the scene.
Fire Police from across Southern Chester County were brought in to close down the streets affected by the fire, with many of them manning their intersections well into the next afternoon/evening.
Ladder 22 arrived as the Second Due Truck and took the rear of the building via Niblock Alley, where they prepared to set up for master stream operations. Cecil Truck 8 took the Third Due Truck assignment and also prepared to use their ladder pipe.
As conditions continued to deteriorate inside the building, Chief 21 made the decision to evacuate the firefighters from the structure. With the warehouse on the Niblock Alley side of the fire well involved, and extreme fire conditions above the apartments in the Dubarry Building on S. 3rd St, defensive operations and master streams were put into place.
Engine 22-2 from the West Grove Fire Company arrived as the Third Due Engine and made access to the Charlie side of the fireground via Niblock Alley after laying a supply line from a hydrant in front of Station 21. Their assignment was to begin fire attack on the large warehouse that was burning behind the fire building on South Third Street. This Engine Company then supplied both Ladder 22 and Cecil Truck 8 for an extended period of time, while also utilizing a second fire hydrant in the alley to supply the ladder pipes and multiple handlines.
Cecil Engine 813 arrived from the South side of the fire and laid an additional supply line up Third Street to assist with fire attack on side Alpha. Lancaster Truck 57 later arrived and put their tower ladder in service for additional suppression efforts from above.
In total, six buildings along South Third Street were affected by the fire due to the fire conditions, building construction, and close proximity to one another. For the next several hours, crews worked tirelessly to prevent fire spread to other buildings on the block, as the 4th Alarm was requested.
Later into the incident, Honey Brook Engine 33-5 laid a supply line from a hydrant at the corner of Second Street and Lancaster Pike, and reported to the North Side of the fireground on Third Street. This apparatus supplied a portable monitor and three handlines. Meanwhile, on the rear side of the Building, Keystone Valley Ladder 8 was also used to flow their ladder pipe. As apparatus switched out on side Charlie, Longwood Ladder 25 and Concordville Tower 59 were also operational.
Before daybreak, it was reported that the Oxford Borough municipal water supply was beginning to run low due to the large fire flow that was needed by the multiple ladder pipes. With this information, Tankers from across the region were called in to begin rural water supply operations. Mutual-aid Engines were sent to local ponds and hydrants outside of the Borough to fill those tankers. This brought the incident to the equivalent of 5 Alarms.
This operation ran throughout the day, with more than 2 million gallons of water flowed.
Todd’s Pond (Stoney Lane, West Nottingham).
1. Lancaster Engine 47-2, Paradise, 351,000 Gallons (117 Tankers).
Cheek’s Pond (Oxford Road, East Nottingham).
1. Lancaster Engine 502, Willow Street, 360,000 Gallons.
2. New Castle Engine 18, Goodwill, 6,000 Gallons.
Hydrant at the corner of Baltimore Pike and Forge Rd in East Nottingham.
1. Engine 6-1, Exton. 150,000 Gallons.
Oxford Borough Water System.
1. Initial supply for Engine 21-1, Engine 22-2, multiple ladder pipes and later Engine 33-5. 1,145,000 Gallons.
The Tankers reported to the intersection of South Third Street and Hodgson Street, where a total of FIVE (yes, 5) Port-A-Tanks were set up for them to dump into for drafting by various Engine Companies. Engine 21-2 (under the direction of Chief Engineer Chris Obenchain), Lancaster Engine 51-2, and Avondale Engine 23-2 were utilized to draft from the tanks. Lancaster Engine 49-2 was used in the relay to boost the water up the Street to Engine 21-1 and Cecil Engine 813, and Lancaster Engine 57-4 was used to boost the water to the rear where Engine 22-2 was operating.
The fire was placed under control at 4:28am with units continuing to work at battling the remaining flames.
By early morning, some of the apparatus on scene were in need of diesel fuel. At 7am, a truck from Alger Oil began making it’s way around the scene to fill up the apparatus. Additional top offs were made later in the day, with more than 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel used- not including the apparatus that filled back at their own stations once they returned home.
At 2pm on Thursday, September 14th, a meeting was held between fire company leadership and Oxford Borough leadership, and included Chester County and government agencies to discuss the plan moving forward. With the condition of the buildings that were on fire deemed unsafe, the decision was made to raze several of the structures. Large machinery was brought in to begin demolition of the buildings housing Oxford Mainstreet, Inc, The Maroon Hornet, The Oxford Shoebox Theatre, an Art Studio and the Dubarry of Ireland Factory Outlet Store and associated apartments above. The Toot Sweets candy shop remained, with future plans to be seen. Security fencing was put in place and razing operations began, as ladder trucks remained in position to keep the remaining smoke and flames in check.
Crews were on standby well into the evening as the buildings were demolished and all hot spots were extinguished. Late on the evening of Thursday, September 14th, the hose, air packs and tools were put back on the apparatus and made operational for the next emergency.
Just after 4:30pm on Saturday, September 16th, 3rd Street was once again open to traffic.
Serving as Apparatus Driver/Operators for the call from Station 21:
1. Engine 21-1. Matt Groseclose
2. Ladder 21. Bud Charlton
3. Engine 21-2. Chris Obenchain
4. Tanker 21. Dave McCormick/Sam Terry
The Union Fire Company No. 1 had more than 40 members assist throughout the incident, with well over 150 firefighters total working the fire. Deputy Fire Chief Meadowcroft and Longwood Fire Chief McCarthy both operated as the Incident Commander for operational periods to relieve Chief Booth of around the clock operations.
Fortunately, there were no fatalities or civilian injuries as a result of this devastating fire. The Union Fire Company No. 1 sends their best wishes to the businesses and individuals affected by this tragedy. The Oxford Community has come together to rally around everyone to prove why we are all Oxford Strong. One Union Firefighter sustained a burn to his ear during the initial fire suppression operations.
See the following link for Body Cam Footage of Officer Richards from the Oxford Borough Police Department evacuating residents early on in the incident: https://youtu.be/H8Fwcv76CSM?si=i5cIlHvTOteGIOnl
Click here for the video of the Press Conference that was held on Thursday, September 14th: https://youtube.com/watch?v=_El7B5KlapU&si=GFzT5rmNLs4RXWpn
Thank you to the original photographers for the pictures.
Union Fire Company No.1 would like to extend a sincere thank you to all of our mutual-aid partners who responded to assist us, as well as those who covered our firehouse, many of which were later asked to report over to the fire scene.