Coal Township man having late-night smoke saves neighbors from house fire
COAL TOWNSHIP - A 25-year-old man who helped saved the lives of his four neighbors late Sunday night when their home was destroyed by fire doesn't consider himself a hero.
The fire that broke out shortly before midnight at 1117 Chemung St. near the Lithuanian Club left William Kreischer, 30, his wife Jennifer, 26, and their twin 6-year-old daughters, Macy and Molly, homeless. They had resided in the house for approximately five years and are now living with family in Excelsior.
Aaron Pollock, who moved in across the street last week to live with his friend, Shawn Hill, and Hill's girlfriend, Alice Post, of 1118 Chemung St., saved the victims by pounding on their front door.
Monday morning, Pollock recalled the tense scene during an interview with The News-Item in front of the fire-ravaged building.
"I just got back from my girlfriend's house in Ranshaw when I went to check on the wood burner in the house where I'm staying. I then went out back to have a cigarette when I noticed an orange glow in front of the home. At first, I thought maybe it was our house that was on fire. But I then looked across the street and saw the neighbor's home on fire."
Pollock said he quickly ran across the street while calling 9-1-1 on his cell phone.
"I knocked as hard as I could on their front door, but nobody was coming out," he said. "Finally, Jen came to the front door and asked what was wrong. I told her to get out now because her house was on fire."
Pollock said the family was sleeping before he knocked on the door. He said Jennifer Kreischer roused her husband and two children, grabbed some blankets and quickly exited the home, which was full of smoke and flames. Pollock said he grabbed one of the girls himself and led all four family members to his home across the street to provide shelter against the freezing temperatures.
He said the family remained at 1118 Chemung St. until Jennifer's parents arrived and took them to their home in Excelsior. Coal Township Fire Chief Russ Feese said the family is not insured.
"I know I saved four people's lives, but I don't feel special," he said. "I just did what any normal person with a good conscience would do. I would do the same thing over again if needed."
'I know how exactly they feel'
Pollock, who formerly resided in Ranshaw, recalled a Nov. 15 fire on Fifth Street near Main Street in Ranshaw where Jeremy "Red" Weikel was left homeless.
"I didn't know the fire victim in that one, but I remember how devastating it was to see him watch his home go up in smoke," Pollock said. "I felt helpless then, but at least I was able to help someone in this fire."
Coincidentally, while Pollock was finishing talking with a News-Item reporter, Eddie Martin, 57, of Luke Fidler, drove by in his Explorer Sport Trac and asked if everyone got out safely. When told they did, Martin replied, "My heart goes out to them. Thank God everyone is safe. I know exactly how they feel."
Martin's former home on Eagle Avenue in Coal Township was one of nine destroyed or badly damaged in a fire seven years ago today. All of the structures were later torn down.
The cause of the Eagle Avenue blaze has never been determined.
Warm ashes, icy conditions
Feese confirmed Monday the Chemung Street fire started on a rear porch facing Tioga Street.
Pollock said William Kreischer told him he placed hot ashes from a wood burner into a pail and placed it on a concrete slab on his back porch at about 5 p.m. Sunday. Pollock believes the ashes may have ignited and caused the fire.
"We determined that the wind blew some of the warm ashes onto the porch and they ignited the blaze," Feese said. "It's being ruled accidental in nature."
When firefighters arrived on scene, Feese said the rear of the structure was fully involved.
"Within minutes, the back porch roof had collapsed, so we went into a defensive mode to fight the fire," the chief said.
The scene was cleared at approximately 5:23 a.m., but Feese and one fire engine were on scene until about 8 a.m. while they waited for Coal Township Street Department employees to salt the roads after the truck became stuck on the ice.
The fire rekindled at about 9 a.m. Monday.
The area around the home was a sheet of ice because water sprayed onto the structure by firefighters quickly froze on Chemung Street and an alley known as Hancock Street.
Firefighters were covered in ice also.
"Because of the low temperatures, when firefighters were hit with water, it froze on their turnout gear. When I took my gear off at home, it stood straight up," Feese joked.
The chief said some firefighters slipped and fell on the ice, but no injuries were reported to him.
All of Coal Township fire units responded to the scene. Also assisting were Rescue Fire Company ladder truck personnel and firefighters from Liberty Fire Company in Shamokin, Rescue Squad 62 and Engine 21 of Shamokin, a ladder unit from Overlook and fire apparatus and personnel from Atlas who helped supply water.