East Pittsburgh, PA Apartment Fire, June 1985


Pittsburgh (UPI) -- Five people were killed and 16 others injured in a fire in an apartment building in nearby East Pittsburgh, which had no smoke alarms or fire extinguishers, a fire official said.
The fire broke out shortly after 2 a.m. Thursday and quickly spread through the three-story building, which had neither smoke alarms nor fire extinguishers in the hallways, East Pittsburgh fire chief Sam Stiles said. Firefighters from four communities brought the blaze under control about 5 a.m.
Russ Gormley, a resident, said he saw smoke in the hallway at 2 a.m. and ran through the building pounding on doors to alert sleeping residents.
"I had to pound fast and get the hell out of there myself because the smoke was getting thicker all the time," he said.
BERTHA LEE GILBERT, 41, one of the victims, was trapped inside her third-floor apartment. Stiles tried to persuade her to climb through a window and onto a ladder with him, but she collapsed on the apartment floor.
Residents said GILBERT only had moved into the building Wednesday.
Stiles said GILBERT apparently was too frightened to crawl through the window and it was too small for him to enter.
"I kept talking," he said. "I couldn't see her bacuse of the smoke, but I kept talking ad finally, she collapsed on the floor. She apparently got frightened and felt safer in the apartment."
Stiles said he suspected the blaze started accidentally in a first-floor apartment sofa from a cigarette.
Firefighters recovered the bodies of the other victims shortly after the fire was brought under control.
The Allegheny County Coroner's office identified the other dead as PAUL OCEL, 54, and husband and wife MICHAEL and IDA HOPTA, in their 80s, and MICHAEL POWERS, 65.
Two residents and a firefighter were admitted to Braddock General Hospital, while 13 others, including 12 firefighters, were treated for smoke inhalation and released, a spokeswoman said.
LOUIS PAYNE, 63, was in poor condition, and THAD BARTLEY, 84, was in fair condition, the spokeswoman said. Both were treated for smoke inhalation. East Pittsburgh fireman JAMES PAYNE, 19, was admitted in fair condition suffering from heat prostration, she said.

Tyrone Daily Herald Pennsylvania 1985-06-07