2-alarm fire sends smoke high above Reading neighborhood

'Just thick smoke in the air'

READING, Pa. - A fire at an auto repair shop in Reading alarmed residents and brought every available firefighter to the scene.

Neighbors came out of their homes in the 400 block of South 12th Street just after 5 p.m. as smoke shot from NN Auto Repair.

"I came outside. I saw smoke," said resident Donna Nelnyczenko. "I own oxygen. I told my roommate to take the oxygen tanks in the house, because it's close to my house."

"Just thick smoke in the air," said her roommate, Cynthia Schmura. "All kinds of stuff going on, and she said, 'Hurry up. Get the oxygen tanks in off the porch.'"

As they started to panic, all on-duty city firefighters responded to the two-alarmer.

"They arrived to find heavy fire conditions to the rear of the garage. It's a commercial repair garage," said Jeremy Searfoss, Reading's fire marshal. "At that point in time, we deployed several large-diameter hoses to knock down the fire, which was quickly advancing through the garage."

An auto repair shop holds a number of hazards for first responders.

"Auto repair garages are notoriously dangerous for the fire service. Vehicles release significant amounts of heat energy as well as fire," Searfoss said. "Ignitable and combustible liquids are always a hazard in a building like this."

In fires like this, when so many firefighters are involved, an accountability board is utilized.

"So it helps us when we know firefighters are operating in the rear, if there is an emergency, if we can't account for someone, if we roll call. We can account for every individual firefighter that's on the scene and operating at this location," said Searfoss.

No one was hurt, and firefighters kept the neighboring homes from being damaged. As for the cause, that is still unknown.

"The initial reports said the tenants were working on a car in the garage, we're working to confirm that," Searfoss said.

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