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2 firefighters die while battling a fire in Schuylkill County

Governor Wolf orders flags at half-staff to honor fallen firefighters

  • By Stephanie Sigafoos/ WLVR
The scene of the fatal fire in West Penn Township, Schuylkill County.

 Jay Bradley /

The scene of the fatal fire in West Penn Township, Schuylkill County.

Lehigh Valley first responders and those from around the region are expressing condolences following the deaths of two volunteer firefighters in West Penn Township, Schuylkill County, on Wednesday.

Pennsylvania State Police have identified the deceased as First Assistant Chief Zachary Paris, 36, and Firefighter Marvin Gruber, 59, from the New Tripoli Community Fire Company. Both are listed as members on the department’s website.

Gruber also served as assistant chief of the Northampton Community College Department of Public Safety.

  • Two volunteer firefighters perished in a fire in West Penn Township, Schuylkill County, on Wednesday
  • They were identified as members of the New Tripoli Community Fire Company
  • Area first responders posted tributes to the two men Wednesday evening, saying their sacrifice would not be forgotten

Late Thursday morning, Governor Tom Wolf ordered the commonwealth flag to fly at half-staff at the Pennsylvania Capitol Complex and all commonwealth facilities statewide in their honor.
Pennsylvania State Police Trooper David Beohm said authorities who responded to the fire scene discovered the body of another person outside the house on the property.

“We have a body in the back, and that’s all still part of this whole investigation,” Boem said while briefing the media Wednesday evening.

West Penn Township Police Chief James Bonner said two people — “an uncle and nephew” — lived in the home and were able to escape. He said two other firefighters were treated for injuries.

Officials said more than 100 firefighters and officers responded to what was later described as an “active crime scene.”

According to the Incident Page Network dispatches published on Broadcastify, a mayday call was made for the two firefighters trapped on the second floor of a burning home around 4:42 p.m. Nearly 40 minutes elapsed before the incident commander reported the firefighters had been pulled from the house.

The Career Firefighters Association, a labor union in Frederick County, Maryland, posted on Facebook Wednesday night that Paris joined the Frederick County Division of Fire and Rescue Service on February 28, 2022, as a member of Recruit Class 32. He graduated on September 10, 2022.

“Firefighter Paris leaves behind his wife, and 2 young daughters. We ask that you please keep Firefighter Paris’s family in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time,” the post said.

Gruber was a beloved member of the staff at Northampton Community College and his loss weighs heavily, said Keith Morris, chief of the Department of Public Safety.

“Marvin was well-respected and loved here at both the college and the Department of Public Safety,” he said Thursday morning.

Gruber worked at NCC for 22 years including the past 15 in public safety, according to a statement issued by the college.

“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 the statement. “While at NCC, he always had students’ best interest at heart, and was dedicated to making our college a better place. He will be profoundly missed.”

On Wednesday evening, the Allentown Fire Department expressed its “deepest sympathy to the family and friends of the two New Tripoli firefighters who died today in the line of duty.”

On Facebook, the city’s EMS services also posted, “The City of Allentown Paramedics join the Emergency Services community in mourning the loss of 2 county firefighters killed in the line of duty this evening.

“These brave men encountered intense fire and succumbed to the conditions while trying to perform a rescue of a citizen. Their sacrifice will not be forgotten.

Our thoughts and condolences to the responders and families affected by this tragedy.”

In a Facebook post on Thursday morning, the Northampton County District Attorney’s Office wrote, “All of us at the district attorney’s office express our deepest condolences to the New Tripoli Fire Department, and to the family and friends who lost two brave men in the line of duty last night during a fire in Schuylkill County. To Marvin Gruber and Zachary Paris, thank you for your selfless service. We’re thinking of you all in this difficult time.”

State police and the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms are assisting the investigation.

In a press conference Thursday morning, a statement from the fire department was made.

“The community Fire Co is deeply saddened. These firefighters made the ultimate sacrifice. They are truly heroes.”

At the same press conference, Trooper Nathan Branosky said viewing and funeral plans are being made, and details will be released to the public.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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