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Loss in Garage Fire Expected to Top $2M

City sourcing trucks from neighboring communities after public works building destroyed

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
February 06, 2022
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

Correction: This story was corrected after publication

The loss in a fire at the city’s public works garage could be at least $2 million, McKeesport officials said Sunday.

The blaze Sunday morning destroyed four large snow plows, a paving machine, a roller and other equipment, and Mayor Michael Cherepko declared a state of emergency to give city officials flexibility in sourcing replacement gear.

“We’ve obviously been working all day long, coming up with solutions,” Cherepko said. “We are in the process of negotiating with a neighboring community and they will probably be providing us with two large dump trucks, equipped with snow plows, ready to go. We think another one is coming in on Tuesday.”

With several recent cold snaps and an ice storm just a few days ago, the mayor acknowledged that there couldn’t be a worse time to lose snow-plowing equipment.

Another municipality that recently purchased three new dump trucks told McKeesport officials that one of their older trucks, currently for sale, is functional, he said.

“It’s a big loss, obviously, but we’re fortunate that no one was hurt,” Cherepko said. “Trucks are things we can replace.”

The city’s public works garage is located just off 13th Avenue, between Walnut and Market streets.

The Allegheny County fire marshal’s office is investigating the cause of the blaze, which was reported at 6:18 a.m. by a worker at the nearby Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County water treatment plant.

When police and fire crews arrived, heavy smoke was visible on the Market Street side of the building and flames were coming from the Walnut Street side, McKeesport fire Chief Jeff Tomovcsik said.

All off-duty McKeesport fire crews were called to the scene, along with volunteers from surrounding municipalities and fire crews from Allegheny County Airport Authority, Tomovcsik said.

The garage that was destroyed was a steel-frame pole building, approximately 75 by 40 feet, he said. It is adjacent to an older, brick and concrete public works garage that also includes fueling stations for city vehicles.

That building was not damaged, Tomovcsik said.

“We attacked the fire with water from the outside,” he said. “It’s a lightweight building and it had a large volume of fire present. We had a lot of vehicles in there, so we were talking a heavy fire load and a mixture of fuels, including gasoline, diesel and likely propane.

“At that point, the goal was to knock the flames down and stop them from spreading to the neighboring garage,” Tomovcsik said.

The older garages do not appear to have been damaged, but the steel-frame building and its contents are a total loss, and the roof has caved in, city officials said.

Despite temperatures that were hovering at around 11 degrees above zero, the severe cold did not present a significant challenge in fighting the fire, Tomovcsik said. “We kept the water moving, and we had no problem with the hydrants freezing,” he said, though a significant amount of ice was built up.

Firefighters responded from Glassport, White Oak No. 1, West Mifflin, Duquesne Annex, Liberty Borough and Port Vue Vigilant Hose Co.

Crews from Munhall No. 1, Station 200, provided rehabilitation services — primarily warming firefighters, Tomovcsik said — and Salvation Army disaster services also assisted at the scene, along with McKeesport Area Rescue Services.

Fire crews from Dravosburg and Rainbow Volunteer Fire Co. were on standby in the city.

The fire was under control by approximately 7:40 a.m., Tomovcsik said.

Cherepko said the equipment that was destroyed included a two-year street paving machine, two 2014-vintage dump trucks, a 2004 dump truck and a 1997 dump truck, all in good working order.

A “vactor” truck — used to clean debris out of storm drains — also was destroyed, he said.

Replacing the trucks is likely to be expensive — if they can even be found. On Sunday, one dealer in Ohio was advertising a new diesel-powered Freightliner dump truck for $226,000, and used trucks for $39,500 to $159,000, but none of them were equipped with snow-plowing or salt-spreading equipment.

The city has seven or eight smaller snow plow trucks, with salt spreaders, Cherepko said. Due to supply-chain disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the waiting time for a new large-capacity dump truck is at least a year, he said.

“There are opportunities for us to get something used, so we’re going to start with that,” he said. “That’s part of the reason I declared the state of emergency, so that we can secure any resources we may need.”

No accumulating snow is in the forecast until Thursday and Friday, according to National Weather Service meteorologists in Moon Twp., though flurries are possible Tuesday.

Though the fire has damaged equipment, Cherepko said, the city does have an adequate supply of road salt on hand. “We’ve tried to stay ahead of that all year,” he said. “Salt is ordered and we’ve done fairly well with that this year. The neighborhood (salt) trucks are OK. The bigger trucks are the ones we’ve lost.”

Correction: Munhall Volunteer Fire Co. No. 1 responded to the fire. We apologize for the error.

Jason Togyer is volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. and editor of Tube City Almanac. He may be reached at jtogyer@gmail.com.

Originally published February 06, 2022.

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