Home > Tragedies > Fire destroys the Great Leopard
destroys the Great Leopard
Daily Times photo by Walt Chernokal, April 21, 1971
"Milmont Fire Company's huge 'snorkel' apparatus hovers high above flames during general alarm fire at Penn and Patterson Streets in Chester Tuesday. Firemen in 'basket' are Charles Clymer and Hank Krawiec. More than 250 firemen fought blaze."
Story as reported Wednesday, April 21, 1971 by the Delaware County Daily Times:
Chester landmark destroyed by fire
Blaze battled by 250
By Harry Maitland & John Roman, Daily Times Staff Reporters
CHESTER - A general alarm fire Tuesday wreaked near total destruction on a block-long three-level building that has been a commercial-industrial landmark in Delaware County.
Flames raged through the building, popularly known as "The Great Leopard," at Penn & Patterson Streets, causing an estimated $500,m000 property loss. The structure, owned by William Coopersmith, contained a skating rink on the top level. The middle level housed the Delaware County Extension Campus of Pennsylvania State University until January. The lower level once was used as a food supermarket.
Fire was discovered in the building shortly before 5:30 p.m. Coopersmith and a skating rink employee, William Dill, barely had time to lead about 30 children out of the building. Most of the children fled to safety wearing their skating shoes.
Although the fire was ruled under control some four hours later shortly before 9:15 p.m., it erupted again about 4 a.m. today in huge clouds of yellow-gray smoke and flames that could be seen as far away as Eddystone, one eyewitness at the scene today claimed.
Chester Asst. Chief Robert Ogden said this morning firemen tried to battle the reignited blaze with hand lines for about two hours until 6 a.m. before abandoning that tact and stringing high-powered snorkels around the perimeter of the building and from the tops of aerial ladders.
"No one's going back inside," Ogden said watching the hoses shoot ton upon ton of Chester River into the now ravaged skeleton, "the floors are too weak."
About 8 a.m. today additional fire equipment from Eddystone and Nether Providence were called in to beef up pumping equipment already on the scene from Chester and surrounding communities.
At 8:30 a.m. for most of the day Chester's business district was shrouded in heavy brown smoke. Cars had to turn on their headlights from 7th and Sproul Sts. on into the business district.
Chester Fire Chief Joseph Landino said the first alarm was received at 5:17 p.m. He said that he surveyed the fire condition and sounded second and general alarms to bring additional equipment and men.
The general alarm brought all equipment from the five city fire companies and additional companies from neighboring Delaware County communities.
Delaware County Chief Fire Marshal William Myers, of Clifton Heights, was at the fire scene coordinating activities of county fire units by radio. Ten fire companies were in operation at the fire with about 30 pieces of equipment and about 250 firemen.
Chester's fire companies, Franklin, Hanley, Moyamensing, Good Will and Felton, were totally committed to the fire fighting operation. They were assisted on the fire line by Garden City, of Nether Providence; Woodlyn and Milmont, both of Ridley Township; Eddystone; Chester Heights and Ogden, of Upper Chichester.
Woodlyn, Milmont and Garden City were summoned to provide aerial assistance. They used snorkel, hydraulic lift units, that poured water downward from high positions. These highly-mobile units supplemented elevated water streams from aerial ladders operated by Moyamensing, Good Will and Felton Fire Companies.
Landino said firemen had 30, 2 1/2-inch hose lines in operation at the height of the fire fighting activity. Five pumpers drafted water directly out of Chester Creek, to the rear of the building at Penn and Patterson Sts.
"The creek gave us all the water we needed. Without this source of water we could have lost some of the nearby homes," Landino said.
Landino ordered the evacuation of about 50 homes close to the huge burning building. Both sides of Penn Street, between 5th and 6th Streets were cleared of residents when flames and flying ashes threatened.
Police Chief Joseph Bail had police contact residents. They notified them to lock their doors and abandon their homes. About 150 persons were required to seek temporary shelter.
As firemen began to win the battle against the fire, smoke began to hang close to the ground. It drifted towards the Delaware River and made visibility almost impossible. Residents were kept out of the area for several hours because of the smoke condition.
The fire attracted several thousand spectators. At the start of the fire a tall column of dark smoke was visible for about 15 miles.
Chester police arranged traffic control points so that a portion of the center city, between Market Street and Edgmont Avenue on the east; Barclay Street on the West; and the entire area between 3rd and 7th Streets was detoured.
The city fire chief estimated about 20 firemen were treated at the fire scene by ambulance and rescue squad units.
Five firemen were treated at Crozer-Chester Medical Center (CCMC), Upland, for smoke inhalation.
In addition, Joseph Alonso, 23, of 314 24th St., was treated for hand and foot injuries.
Treated for smoke inhalation were Ronald Gordon, 25, of 1125 Terrell St.; John Gresch, 18, of 327 Rose St.; John OeNurnou, 18, of 1211 Eddystone Ave., Eddystone; Lee Ricky, 18, of 413 E. 10th St.; and Michael Yenser, 20, of 3012 W. 9th St.
Franklin Rescue Squad had four ambulances and rescue trucks in operation. Rescue Squad Director Eugene Fusco had the vehicles arranged at 6th and Penn Sts.
Asst. Squad Directors Lawrence Scarpato and Raymond Lambert had treatment facilities organized. Frank Poliofico, a student at PMC Colleges who is studying to become a registered nurse, was assisting.
Lester and Eddystone had other ambulances at the fire. The Moyamensing Junior Fire Co. and the Aston-Beechwood Fire Co. had coffee wagon units in operation. They served coffee and sandwiches to firemen, many of whom missed dinner at home because of the fire.
According to Landino, the fire started in the rear area of the building. He said fire spread rapidly along the length of the building, traveling in an area between the roof and false ceiling. The entire roof of the building collapsed in sections during the course of the fire.
Landino said the cause of the fire was not known.
Photo and article courtesy of "Joker" Jack Chambers, Aston, PA
© 2002 John
A. Bullock III.
Graphic Details Publications
This page last updated 10/18/05