CHARLEROI – Fire Chief Robert Whiten Jr. addressed council Wednesday, noting that a fire that killed a Charleroi resident on March 2 had the potential to cause more casualties.
According to Whiten, firefighters found 13 oxygen tanks, an electric oxygen unit and heaps of cigarette butts when they entered the residence at 118 Rear Fallowfield Avenue.
“I don’t think everyone realizes the extreme danger our guys are in when there is oxygen involved,” Whiten told council members during their regular meeting. “There were two police officers without protective equipment. There could have been a flash fire, and it could have been bad for us. Thank God everyone was safe, and we put it out quickly.”
James Harbaugh, 62, was pronounced dead at 6:42 a.m. at the scene of the fire at the residence. At the time of the fire, Harbaugh was living in the home without water and natural gas service. According to online county records, the property is owned by Lorenzo Kendrick of Douglasville, Ga. Whiten described the living conditions at the home as “deplorable.”
Firefighters from Charleroi, Bentleyville, North Charleroi, Fallowfield Township, Stockdale and Monessen were on the scene for several hours.
Whiten added that firefighters and other first responders are at risk because they often don’t know if a burning home has portable oxygen equipment.
“There should be some kind of marking or placard on the house to alert firefighters that oxygen is being stored and used in that building,” he said.
Whiten praised his team of firefighters for their courage and selfless service to the borough.
“It has been a long time since we had a death in town, and the guys took it pretty tough,” said Whiten, who has dealt with just two fire-related fatalities during his 27-year career. “We work hard not to have that situation, but we are working to get through it. I’m proud of the way our guys went in there and did their job.”
During the meeting, council members also agreed to start a search for a new code enforcement agency. Proposals and letters of interests will be accepted until noon March 27. Council hopes to select a new code enforcement company at its next meeting on April 3. Services were previously provided by Building Inspection Underwriters, a company that was hired two years ago.
In other business, Councilman Mark Alterici recommended moving the Charleroi Farmer’s Market from Thursday evenings to Saturday mornings.
“Thursday nights are stale right now, and it might be a good time to make a change,” he said. “If we moved it to Saturday mornings, there would be a chance of bringing in more farmers. And people might stick around do some shopping and have a bite to eat at one of our restaurants.”