Screams alert Pa. fire chief to blaze in own neighborhood

Hilltop Hose Fire Chief Mike Krzeminski got his gear from his truck but escalating fire conditions forced him to retreat


Brian C. Rittmeyer
The Valley News-Dispatch, Tarentum, Pa.

HARRISON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Hilltop Hose fire Chief Mike Krzeminski is usually notified of a fire call with a page. On Friday evening, the alert came in the form of a scream.

The fire was in Krzeminski's own Campton neighborhood in Harrison.

"I heard the young man who lived there screaming his house was on fire," Krzeminski said Saturday. "I like to think I'm a pretty tough guy. (But) I'm still kind of coping with this. This was a tough one."

The fire at the McDaniel home at 1508 Fourth St. is looking to be accidental, Krzeminski said. The cause appears to be electrical, but he could not be more specific.

The Allegheny County Fire Marshal's Office is investigating. A county spokeswoman said no information would be available over the weekend because no one was in the office.

Antoine and Dana McDaniel share the home with their adult children, Alyssa, 20, and Antoine Jr., 18, who graduated this year from Highlands. Their oldest, Jordan, is overseas in the Navy.

According to Krzeminski, Dana McDaniel was heading to Harmar to pick up her husband, a truck driver who was just returning home from Chicago, when she got the call her home was on fire.

But Antoine Jr. and Alyssa believed their mother was in her bedroom.

"I opened up my mom's door and it was just flames," Antoine Jr. said at the house Saturday while waiting for his parents to return from getting things they needed at Walmart.

Antoine Jr. said food from the refrigerator was all they were able to salvage. Everything else is burned or blackened.

"It's terrible," he said of the inside of the house. "You can't even be in there for more than 30 seconds without feeling like you're dying."

Antoine Jr. said the first thing they did was to get the family's three small dogs out. But when firefighters arrived, the pets got scared and ran back into the burning building.

"That was their home. They felt safe," he said.

Antoine Jr. called a neighbor a hero for getting the dogs out a second time.

"If it wasn't for him, they'd probably be dead in there," he said.

Carol Pogue has lived in her house next door on Fourth Street for 40 years. She fled, fearing a gas meter would explode. She returned Friday night, her home undamaged, although the power was out until early Saturday morning.

"Thank God everybody got out OK," she said.

Across the street, Sue Syput first noticed flashing lights before looking out her door and seeing flames.

"It seemed to me it started on the front porch," she said. "It went up in record time. I was shocked."

Syput said she's lived there 33 years. While her son is a firefighter in Arnold, Syput said she's never seen a house fire.

"It was scary," she said.

Rather than head to his fire hall, Krzeminski got his gear from his truck.

"I grabbed a fire extinguisher hoping it was something small," he said. "(But) from the amount of smoke, I knew it wasn't a fire extinguisher fire."

When a window broke and the front porch became engulfed, Krzeminski said he and a police officer were forced to retreat across the street.

"It was very, very hot," he said. "The entire contents of the front room were consumed by fire. All you could see were mattress springs, wires on the floor and the clothes that were piled up were melted. There's probably nothing salvageable in that front room."

The Red Cross was assisting the family. While there was no immediate word on a fundraising effort, Antoine Jr. said family and friends were also helping them.

"We definitely feel supported," he said.

Krzeminski said he believes the family will be able to recover some things from elsewhere in the house. He couldn't say if the house could be repaired.

"All this can be dealt with," he said. "They can rebuild the home, they can build a new home elsewhere. They can buy new clothes. They will survive this."

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(c)2021 The Valley News-Dispatch (Tarentum, Pa.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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