2 Pa. firefighters killed battling suspicious fire; 3rd body found outside home identified

Initial reports were that someone was trapped inside the residence. That report turned out to be unfounded.

Friday, December 9, 2022
2 firefighters killed in Pa. fire; 3rd body found at the scene
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Two volunteer firefighters who died while battling a house fire in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania have been identified.

WEST PENN TWP., Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Two volunteer firefighters died while battling a house fire in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania that is being considered suspicious.

Pennsylvania State Police say Assistant Fire Chief Zachary Paris, 36, and Marvin Gruber, 59, from Community Fire Company New Tripoli in Lehigh County, died after being called to the fire in the 1100 block of Clamtown Road in West Penn Township around 4 p.m. Wednesday.

The hearses containing the remains of the two fallen volunteer firefighters made one last stop at the New Tripoli Fire Company on Thursday. They were escorted by fire trucks and state police as family, friends and fellow firefighters said their final goodbyes.

"These members made the ultimate sacrifice for their community and country. They are truly heroes," the fire company said in a statement read during a news conference on Thursday.

West Penn Township Police Department Chief John Bonner said the fire is considered suspicious.

Gruber joined the New Tripoli Fire Company in Lynn Township in 2020. He worked at Northampton Community College for 22 years, the last 15 in the Department of Public Safety.

"He died a hero in the line of duty, doing what he did best, helping and protecting others while selflessly serving his community with honor and integrity," said Keith Morris, the school's public safety chief.

Paris joined the fire company in 2010 and served as an assistant fire chief. He worked as a professional firefighter in Frederick County, Maryland. He joined the county's fire department as a recruit in February and had just graduated from the fire academy in September

Paris leaves behind a wife, two daughters, his parents, and a sister. A GoFundMe has been set up to help support his family.

"There are no words to describe the sadness myself and the members of Frederick County Division of Fire and Rescue Services are feeling today," said Fire Chief Tom Coe. "Not only was Zach someone who was living out his dream of becoming a career firefighter, but he was also living out his dream as a family man."

Initial reports were that someone was trapped inside the residence. That report turned out to be unfounded.

State police say while fighting the fire, multiple maydays were given.

"The fire went to a third alarm, with fire units from Schuylkill County, Lehigh County, Carbon County, and Berks County dispatched to assist," said Chief Bonner.

Don Smith, Jr., a spokesperson for the Lehigh County Communications Center, said the two firefighters became trapped while trying to put out the blaze, and other firefighters worked quickly to try to rescue them. They were rushed to the hospital, where they died, Smith said.

Officials said the causes of death and details of funeral arrangements would be released at a later date.

The body of another person was discovered Wednesday on the large plot of land surrounding the home in West Penn Township near Tamaqua, a small coal-region town about 85 miles from Philadelphia.

He was identified Thursday as Christopher Kammerdiener, 35, according to Deputy Coroner Michael Bowman, who said Kammerdiener lived at the house that caught fire.

Officials did not release further details on the investigation of Kammerdiener's death.

Investigators were on the scene Thursday morning looking through the charred home for evidence as to how the fire started and why the firefighters became trapped inside.

"Everybody involved is affected by this. So, it's important that we try to find the best answers that we possibly can," said Trooper Jannsen Herb, who was acting as fire marshal.

Police say two people, an uncle and a nephew, lived in the home and got out safely. They were being helped by the Red Cross.

Two West Penn Township firefighters were also injured. One of them remained hospitalized in intensive care Thursday afternoon, Bonner said.

A Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal with Reading-based Troop L is working with the local authorities to determine how the fire started.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.