SERIO BUILDING FIRE, 100 NORTH CRAIN HIGHWAY, GLEN BURNIE, SIX ALARMS
THIRTY-FIVE-YEARS-AGO ON SATURDAY, APRIL 21, 1979, Anne Arundel County fire companies responded to a Six-Alarm building fire at the Serio building in the 100 block of North Crain Highway, Glen Burnie, MD.
The Serio building fire was just one of three major fires that occurred on the block over a 13 month period between April 1978 and May of 1979.
On Monday morning, April 3, 1978, a fire was reported at the GIen lounge, a business adjacent to and south of the Serio building at 3:36 a.m. County police officers saw smoke in the back of the bar-lounge and radioed in the report.
(The Glen Lounge, as all of the buildings on the block, was of ordinary construction (concrete block walls with a combustible roof. Photo AACoFD)
Companies 33 (Glen Burnie Eng & Truck), 34 (Ferndale), 18 (Marley Park), 26 (South Glen Burnie) and Truck 32 (Linthicum) firefighters searched through heavy smoke conditions before the fire revealed itself in the street-side of the basement.
By then, the blaze had made considerable headway and a Second-Alarm was requested by Battalion Chief 1 at 4:24 a.m. A Third-Alarm was requested at 5:08 a.m. The fire was declared under control around 5:30 a.m.
(The Glen Lounge with roof gone and completely gutted out Photo -AACoFD)
Over 75 firefighters, including firefighters from Baltimore City Fire Department units, responded to the blaze. Firefighter/Engineman John Mallonee, Company 26, injured a hand and Firefighter Doug Smith, also of 26, had a sliver of glass in his knee that was removed in the ER by a doctor. Both were transported to North Arundel Hospital were they were treated and released.
The Glen Lounge fire was just another “A” shift fire, where my “B” shift crew consisting of Firefighter/Engineman David Marshall and Firefighter’s Al Prevost and Neil Hanson in addition to myself, relieved the Company 21 “A” shift crew at the fire scene. We spent the next two hours pumping water out the basement of Needles’s Liquors (the end of the block) with Engine 122’s front mount pump at draft.
Loss to the Glen Lounge, which had totally collapsed into the basement, was estimated to be $45,000. The fire raised concerns since the owner of the business was Ruben Tony Pannuty.
Three years earlier, Pannuty was charged by county states attorney Warren Duckett with “engineering” a string of arson fires in Glen Burnie bars and restaurants from 1966 to 1972. However, prosecutor Duckett was unsuccessful and Pannuty was acquitted of all charges in 1976.
On Saturday, April 21, 1979, I was working as lieutenant at Company 32, “A” shift – where I had been assigned for the past four months. At around 10 p.m., Truck 32 was alerted on the initial box for a building fire at the Serio building on Crain Highway.
(Truck 32. 1971 Seagrave 100' Aerial Ladder Truck. Photo - Credit to the photographer)
The Serio building consisted of an appliance sales business on the first floor and apartments located on the second. There had been rumors circling throughout the north county fire stations over the past couple of weeks that this building might be torched.
(During this period there were many suspicious fires occurring in the vicinity of the Serio Building. This fire on "C" shift about a week before the Serio fire is LT. Joseph B. Ross Jr., Truck 32, working a shed fire behind the Glen Lounge. Photo Pam Street)
I’m not sure who was driving the truck that evening. It was either Firefighter/Engineman Rick Gorzo or Doug Shanks. It was a full moon and we could see a large column of heavy gray smoke from the fire, as we ascended the upgrade of Camp Meade Road just past Tauber's service station. The building was heavily involved.
As we approached the intersection of Baltimore/Annapolis Blvd. and Crain Highway, Battalion Chief 1, Harry Zlotowski, who had requested a second-alarm upon arriving on location, directed Truck 32 to set up at the rear of the building near Drum Point Road.
Heavy dark-gray-smoke was pouring from various openings in the building. As Gorzo was working the truck’s turntable to place the aerial ladder on the roof, Shanks and I raised a 35’ extension ladder and took out all of the second story windows in the rear for ventilation.
No sooner than we completed the ventilation, it seemed like Firefighter/Engineman David Reynolds pulled up with Company 32’s reserve (Engine 162), on the second-alarm, with rookie firefighters Jeff Nelson and William Baldree.
(Engine 162, a 1958 Pirsch. Photo - Courtesy of Joseph MacDonald)
Firefighter Jim Bradley (Co.18) and 32’s crew advanced a one-and-a-half-inch attack line into the second-floor via an exterior metal stairway. I joined the interior crew as Reynolds tied into a hydrant on Drum Point Road near the rear of the building and prepared to supply Engine 18 and Truck 32 in the event of a ladder pipe operation.
Truck 31 (Brooklyn), also on the second-alarm, placed its aerial ladder to the roof on the Crain Highway side of the building. Truck Company 31’s crew, led by Lieutenant Gary Rogers, was taking out the roof's skylights and the glass rained down on us as we crawled on the second floor searching for possible victims and trying to find the fire.
The fire at the time heavily involved the apartments and attic in the front or the Alpha of the building.
(Brooklyn's Truck 31 ('59 Pirsch 85' aerial, set up on the Crain Highway, Northwest (or Alpha-Bravo) side of the building.)
Now with effective ventilation we could see that we were in a large room with no furniture and flames now appeared at the top of a wall near the ceiling toward the mid-section of the building. We started hitting the fire with the attack line.
Based on my observations, we needed a two-and-a-half-inch line and with the additional water and pressure, we could possibly maintain the fire at that point.
However, before I could call for one, Battalion 1 ordered everyone to evacuate the building. Apparently, the fire in the front-half of the structure was extensive and since the search didn’t turn up anything, Zlotowski, decided the building wasn’t worth the risk of getting anyone hurt – it was the smart decision.
Truck 33 was using the 76' Mack, CF-Hamerly-Maxim, 100' tractor and trailer, stenciled Truck 5 and the unit was parked on the north-side of the building. Truck 33’s crew laddered the 2nd floor apartment windows with ground ladders and conducted a search of the uninvolved but smoke filled apartments on the the north side of the structure before they were ordered to evacuate.
(Courtesy of Kevin Ryer - HUNGRYBUS)
When all the interior companies pulled out of the second floor, the fire naturally took off and as a result, burned through the small attic and ignited the tar-covered built-up-flat-roof.
As the fire grew in intensity, flames and flying brands reached some 100’ into the cool night air and the entire Glen Burnie central business district was now exposed to numerous flying-hot-embers.
Eventually Trucks 31 (Brooklyn), 32, 33, 23 (Jones Station), 28’s (Odenton) snorkel and Baltimore City FD Truck 21 all had water towers in operation to push the hot-air borne-elements back to their place of origin, confine and extinguish the fire.
(Truck 32, with Firefighter/Engineman Wayne Wiggins finishing water tower operations on the Embers Fire, Glen Burnie, October 1971)
Sometime after midnight, while firefighters battled the Serio building fire, two-alarms were called to Dorsey Road near Arundel Road for a large blazing pile of tires. The A.A.Co. FD's “C” shift was called back to duty to place reserve apparatus back in-service and/or to assist fill-in-companies.
Returning “C” shift Company 32 member, Firefighter/Engineman Melvin Morrison would later share with me that he was rather astounded as he looked out one of the second-story windows of Linthicum’s fire station. As he gazed south from the window, he observed the two huge glows of flames from the fires. He said the fires were impressive yet intimidating as they lit up the night’s sky. Morrison stated, "It looked like a war zone!"
(Odenton's Truck 28 a '64 ALF 900 Series Aero Chief works the Southside of the fire. Photo David Dohler)
Before the night was over the Serio building fire would increase to six-alarms. The fire was declared under control at 2:07 a.m. and “B” shift relieved the crews from another “A” shift fire.
(Truck 28 a '64 ALF 900 Series Aero Chief. Unit was purchased used from Greece Ridge, NY circa '78-'79. Photo - Courtesy of Joseph MacDonald)
As a result of the suspicious fires, the area was being staked-out by the AACo.FD’s FIB’s undercover officers. More so since the county had purchased the building and property only the day before.
To assist with the county’s urban renewal plan, the county had purchased the Serio building along with the additional buildings for $260,000. The businesses were allowed to remain until further notice. The fire was determined to be suspicious and not part of the string of Glen Burnie arsons that occurred during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
(Firefighter/Engineman Virgil Buttrum sits on top of Powhaten Beach's Engine 152, '64 Hahn, as Battalion Chief 2 George Nagele keeps an eye on Firefighter David Devilbliss and others working on the roof of stores lining Delaware Avenue which was an exposure of the Needles Liquors Fire.)
Sometime after midnight on Tuesday, May 1, 1979, another “A” shift, multiple-alarms were called out for the second time in ten days as what was left of the 100 block of Crain Highway went up in flames. This fire consumed the K/D Furniture Company, a barber shop and Needles Liquors. All buildings were a total loss.
I had taken the shift off to attend the Beach Boys Concert at the Capital Center in Largo. After midnight, on my way home, I decided to visit the “Little Tavern” on Baltimore/Annapolis Blvd. for a late night snack when I saw all the blinking lights, smoke and fire. I couldn’t believe it!
I decided to become a spectator and watch my guys to see how they were doing. I remember Firefighter/Engineman Virgil Buttrum, Company 15 (Powhaten Beach) rolling up a section of hose on Drum Point Road. He looked up when he saw me and said, “Joe, all these fires. Its all getting to be too much like work!”
After the fires, the entire block was demolished and the new multi-story Arundel Center North was constructed. In the spring of 1982, the AACo.FD Fire Prevention Bureau moved into new offices on the Fifth-floor.
I was assigned to the bureau during that period and the new offices were a shot-in-the-arm of new life for the assigned firefighter-inspectors and officers after many years in the cramped offices at Fire Department Headquarters in Millersville.
Arundel Center North with the newness of the offices and the view of north county from the vast windows was a wonderful place to work. The offices were closed sometime in the 1990s and the bureau, now the Fire Marshals Office, moved to the county complex on Riva Road where it is located today.
Past Facebook Comments:
Jeff Nelson: Remember it well. When Truck 32 pulled out of the bays, Dave told us to get on the engine and out the door we went. When the 2nd was struck we were already passing through Ferndale. Got several lessons on ladder pipe and engine support operations. Even got a little nap on the bench of E-162. Thanks Joe
William R. Metcalf: I was one of the C Shift folks that was called back. In my case, I was assigned to ride as a guide with a Baltimore City Engine that was filling 33. As you describe, it wasn't too long after arriving at the station that we were dispatched to a tire fire behind the VFW on Dorsey Rd.
I remember being squeezed into the middle of the front seat. No jump seats....just the front seat and two guys on the tailboard. As we responded out Dorsey Rd, I remember the guy driving looking at me with a big grin on his face as he explained that this was the first time he had ever had the engine in top gear. As you know, piles of tires don't go out easily, so it was a long night. I also remember that it was very strange working with a crew of complete strangers. Great story, Joe! Thanks for the memories.
Patrick Gilligan: I was a 12-year-old kid standing on Crain Hwy with my pocket scanner watching and listening intently.,Good story Joe!
Scott Bierman: I was working in Fire Alarm and took the call for the Serio Building, big fire- 1 call. Ended up driving Fire Alarm II setting up in front of the building. Had a front row seat for all of the action including the Playboy Bunny from Glen Burnie (name escapes me) attracting the attention of a number of firefighters as she hung on a street light pole like a stripper.
I was also on the Neddles Liquors fire this time working on E-29. We had a straight bore 2 1/2 hand line through the front door, what fun! I remember getting my ass chewed by FF Gorzo for knocking bricks off the back wall onto T-32.