Carlisle fire police faced many challenges at former Lear Corp. plant fire
May 05, 2012 (Menafn - The Sentinel - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --There are the men and women fighting the fires and the people looking on as the disaster unfolds.
Then you have the volunteers stuck in the middle who try to protect both the first responders and those bystanders.
Fire police consist of an all-volunteer staff who are mostly seen blocking off streets and directing traffic around crashes and fires. Sometimes they help manage intersections when traffic lights aren't working.
And then there are fires like the one at the former Lear Corp. complex Wednesday night when area fire police were put into a much more difficult situation to control.
Bob Wertz, the captain of the Carlisle Special Fire Police, was heading to bed Wednesday night when he got the fire call. Like many other fire police personnel who responded to the fire that night, he ended up staying up through the night and early morning before heading out to work Thursday -- foregoing any sleep. And while the lack of rest finally caught up to him Thursday night, being tired was just a minor issue compared to the problems Wertz said he faced while trying to help contain the area around the Lear Corp. complex.
He and other fire police crews were concerned about keeping everyone safe -- even if the crowds weren't as keen on that idea.
"First, we had to shut down the streets that were involved," Wertz said. "After we got the perimeter set up, we got started with crowd control. It's hard work because people don't want to move back. They just want to get as close as they can. We can only advise them to move back."
Because of the square-footage of the fire, the 25 to 30 fire police who were on the scene had their hands full with wrangling the residents not involved in the fire.
"It was a big area -- about several city blocks worth," said John Bruetsch, Cumberland County Public Information Officer. "People are also pretty innovative in getting through. They had their hands full, and that's why they had to call in more fire police."
Wertz said they had a number of streets closed off in the area, some of which were shut down because of hose equipment used to bring in water from other areas to help battle the blaze.
In those instances, Wertz said fire police tried to keep people away from potentially impeding what the firefighters were trying to do.
But more than anything, fire police focus on the safety of everyone at a fire or crash.
"Getting the traffic away is for the safety of the firefighters," he said. "They're moving around and concentrating on the fire or injured person. It's our job to make it easier on them. (For the crowds) we're doing it for their own interest, and not because we're trying to be nasty. You don't know what's going to happen, and (at Lear) you have these explosions. Firefighters were told not to go in. We just want to keep people at a safe distance. I didn't want to go in there -- I wanted to move back. There are hazardous materials in that smoke. You don't want to breathe that in. There were times when I was choking on it."
Keeping people at a safe distance is usually easier in other situations, Wertz added.
"A lot of the time at house fires, we're using police tape and taping off the area," he said. "We used some of that, but there was so much to be done (at Lear). On a fire like that, you do the best you can with what you have."
Luckily for Wertz, he had a backup to help out with street closures and crowd control.
"We had a good response," he said. "Other fire police and traffic units besides ours showed up. We had fire police from North Middleton, Mt. Holly and even as far away as Newville. Traffic units also arrived from New Kingstown and Silver Spring.
"I want to thank the fire police that came out to do the job that day," Wertz said. "I very much appreciated the help, not only from Carlisle but also from outside the area. They were willing to help. They asked what they could do, how can they help. Everybody was very supportive."
The combined effort from crews around the county was effective in doing what they set out to do -- keep people safe.
"They did a good job because nobody was injured," Bruetsch said.
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