UNITY AMID TRAGEDY: Mutual aid for Realty rescues came from throughout county

Staff photos / Ed Runyan Two Mahoning County Sheriff’s deputies are seen outside of the Realty Tower on East Federal Street in downtown Youngstown about 10 minutes after an explosion blew out the lower floors of the building Tuesday afternoon. The sheriff’s deputy at right is Joe Hamilton. The deputy at left is Joe Kamensky. The law enforcement officers in the center are unidentified.


Within about 15 minutes of the explosion that blew out most of the first floor of the Realty Tower on East Federal Street downtown Tuesday afternoon, the Boardman Fire Department got a request to help the Youngstown Fire Department with the critical incident, but it was not the only one.

Other agencies, including the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office and the Youngstown Police Department, responded and several others from all over the county sent resources as well.

At a news conference, Youngstown police Chief Carl Davis said Tuesday’s explosion shows what mutual aid looks like.

“We had firefighters, police officers, sheriff’s deputies, state and federal authorities responding to assist, to create a perimeter, evacuating people from nearby buildings and helping with the rescue effort,” he said.

Boardman firefighters were asked to come to Youngstown to help remove victims from the 12-story building, including anyone who might need to be rescued from the upper floors.

Boardman fire Chief Mark Pitzer and his assistant chief, Bill Glaser, responded to the scene along with the Boardman ladder truck and other firefighters. Pitzer requested the department’s ambulance to come after he and the others arrived at the Realty Tower.

At the scene, Pitzer said he spoke to the Youngstown Fire Department battalion chief, Tim Frease, who was in charge of recovery efforts, and Frease asked Pitzer to position Boardman’s ladder truck in front of the building and start a search on the fifth floor.

The ladder truck was positioned there “on the chance that we would have to do a rescue out of a window,” Pitzer said. Firefighters then went into the building on foot and went to the fifth floor to search. Then they went to the eighth floor, looking for someone who was missing, and then went to the 10th floor, where they found a woman and helped her down to the ground to be evaluated by paramedics, Pitzer said.

Boardman firefighters also went to the rear of the building to assess damage and help move a victim who was removed by Youngstown firefighters, the report states. The resident was not injured but had impaired mobility.

Several Boardman vehicles and eight firefighters left the Realty Tower and returned to Boardman at about 5 p.m., the report states.

Pitzer said mutual aid with Youngstown and other surrounding communities is a “common occurrence, maybe not to the magnitude of (the Realty Tower) incident, which was obviously pretty unique, having a gas explosion in a high-rise building,” he said.

The Realty Tower explosion was “a large incident, very labor intensive, and the X-factor of not knowing how many people that could have been involved. It was a very unfortunate incident that we had some serious injuries and a fatality,” he said.

But with a large building like that, it’s fortunate that more lives were not lost and that more people were not seriously injured, he said.

When dealing with a high-rise like the Realty Tower, the Youngstown Fire Department “did an absolutely fabulous job and was very wise in requesting mutual aid in that scenario, getting the adequate amount of resources down there to respond,” Pitzer said.

The longest ladder the Boardman Fire Department has is about 35 feet, so in a 12-story building like the Realty Tower, it is “very critical” to have a ladder truck available to rescue someone, Pitzer said. The Youngstown Fire Department had its ladder truck on the back side of the Realty Tower. “It was a nice, coordinated effort,” Pitzer said.

The Boardman assistant chief served as safety officer on the back side of the building to observe the Youngstown firefighters and make sure everyone and the building were safe, Pitzer said.

Frease had Pitzer on the front side of the building working alongside ambulance personnel “to ensure the patients were triaged, taken care of,” he said. They were being sent off to the hospital, and Pitzer was making decisions about what additional personnel were needed.

“That’s where I fell into place. We had a great response from outside agencies,” Pitzer said. Springfield Township and Poland sent ambulances, and Canfield sent firefighters and its mass-casualty trailer, which contains supplies to treat mass casualties. It did not need to be used.

At one point, after eight people were sent to the hospital, 12 ambulances were standing by in case they were needed for other potential victims, Pitzer said. The ambulances were from EMT Ambulance, Boardman and other departments.

“In case more people were found or God forbid that building would have went down, we would have had 12 more ambulances there standing by. So we were as prepared as we possibly could be,” Pitzer said.

Pitzer said that because the fire chiefs meet monthly and work closely together, when the time comes for mutual aid, they’re comfortable doing it.

“We talk, we work as partners. These things happen week in, week out,” Pitzer said.

Finley called Pitzer as Finley was responding to the explosion and “alerted me. He said, chief, we have this Chase building that had an explosion. The first floor has collapsed. All of our resources are committed. We may need your help if there are any other calls going on or to be dispatched to the scene.”

I said “Whatever you need. We are more than willing to come down and give you a hand,” Pitzer said.

Just after that, Pitzer said Frease called for Boardman’s ladder truck.

“I heard this over the radio, so we are already on our way when dispatch actually called us out,” Pitzer said.

Boardman has done training with Canfield, Austintown and Youngstown.

“We work together often,” Pitzer said. They had another joint training as recently as a year ago, he noted.

“The public should be assured that we are always doing whatever we can in the interest of public safety of our community and to know that if that incident would have happened in Boardman, rest assured Youngstown would have sent resources. Poland would have sent resources, Canfield. That’s the art of mutual aid and why we work so closely together because no matter what the job and task is, we are willing to help and support each other.”


Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene confirmed that several deputies working security at the Mahoning County Courthouse took off down Market Street to help Youngstown firefighters in their search and recovery of victims and help secure the area around the explosion to protect the public.

One was deputy Joe Hamilton, whose body camera video has been seen by countless people. It shows Hamilton assisting Youngstown firefighters as one firefighter climbed a ladder and brought a woman up from the basement on his back, and Hamilton and a second Youngstown firefighter carried her on a stretcher to an ambulance.

Deputies also responded from the Mahoning County jail, the sheriff’s office and other nearby locations. He estimated more than 20 deputies responded.

The sheriff’s office drone unit also flew its small drone inside the Realty Tower. Green said the drone flew into the destroyed areas, including the basement, where the explosion is believed to have originated.

It was looking for trapped victims and providing other information to firefighters to help them stay safe and locate people, the sheriff said. It was able to provide information on what areas were now unsafe because of the blast damage. Chief Finley was “5 feet from our officers when they were running the drone,” Greene said.

“We took the perimeter. We were able to block off most of the access areas to that site,” Greene said.

Greene said the body camera picked up a “hissing” sound that multiple deputies felt sure indicated that gas might still be pouring into the area, suggesting the possibility that a second explosion might happen.

Greene said the sheriff’s office “usually leaves the city to the city, but when we know it’s going to be a massive event, such as when there is going to be a concert here or for example or when Donald Trump comes and fills the Covelli Centre, we know that Youngstown may not have the manpower to handle that, so we are there when they need us,” Greene said.

Greene said the explosion “was an unfortunate and horrific event, but it’s refreshing to see so many agencies bonding together.”

Have an interesting story? Contact Ed Runyan by email at erunyan@vindy.com. Follow us on X, formerly Twitter, @TribToday.


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