Reading officials navigate challenges post-Lincoln Chemical building blaze

In a press conference held at the intersection of South 9th and Laurel Street, City of Reading officials, including Mayor Eddie Morán and Fire Marshal Jeremy Searfoss, joined representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to deliver an update on the recent two-alarm fire at the abandoned Lincoln Chemical Building.

Mayor Eddie Morán stated, “There were some materials in containers found left behind, and the EPA was dispatched immediately to evaluate the situation.”

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Fire Marshal Jeremy Searfoss detailed the timeline, stating, “This all began Tuesday, October 31, 2023 when the Department of Fire and Rescue services responded to the property behind me at approximately 5:30 PM for a fire in the third floor. Our members worked diligently and quickly extinguished that fire and was limited to a smaller area. Subsequently, that investigation is currently ongoing. Then on Thursday, November 2, 2023, we responded here at approximately 8:30 PM for a fire on the third floor. That fire is currently under investigation as well. “

Searfoss emphasized the ongoing safety measures, including daily building safety assessments and the use of drones for comprehensive visual inspections. Concerns about structural integrity were raised, with Searfoss stating, “We’ve been in a position where we’ve used multiple different applications, time-dated photographs, so we compare day-to-day… We’ve also used our drone asset, explicitly for multiple flyovers of the building to determine if anything is moving, if anything is shifted, or if there’s any risk of further collapse.”

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Laura Casillas, Federal On-Scene Coordinator for the EPA, wanted to reassure the public about their priorities, stating, “Our priorities during this project are to support the fire department and the city in making sure that any materials that are found in containers inside the building are managed safely.”

Casillas further explained the EPA’s meticulous process of assessing and testing materials, acknowledging that this would take several weeks. “Right now, all these materials are safely contained, and we, little by little, continue to assess them and test them, and that does take some time. It will be a few weeks while we work through all this.”

Officials said the former owner of the Lincoln Chemical Company confirmed the building’s discontinued use for production in the last 6 to 8 months. Casillas urged patience from the community, acknowledging the ongoing air monitoring both inside and outside the building, which so far has been normal.

As the investigation continues, officials say South 9th and Laurel Street will continue to be closed.

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Jason Hugg
Jason Hugg
Editor and photographer at Berks Weekly.
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