Deadly Pa. Fire: 2 firefighters killed while battling suspicious fire in West Penn Township, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania

WEST PENN TWP., Pennsylvania (WPVI) — Two volunteer firefighters died fighting a suspicious house fire in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania State Police say assistant fire chief Zachary Paris, 36, and Marvin Gruber, 59, of the Community Fire Company New Tripoli in Lehigh County died after joining the fire at the 1100 block of Clamtown Road in West Penn around 4 p.m. Wednesday Township had been called.

The hearses carrying the remains of the two fallen volunteer firefighters made a final stop at the New Tripoli Fire Company on Thursday. They were escorted by fire engines and state police as family, friends and other firefighters said their goodbyes.

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

West Penn Township Police Chief John Bonner said the fire was 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 years in the Public Safety Department.

“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 director of public safety.

Paris joined the fire service in 2010 and served as deputy fire chief. He worked as a professional firefighter in Frederick County, Maryland. He joined the county 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 was set up to support his family.

“There are no words to describe the sadness that I and the members of the Frederick County Division of Fire and Rescue Services feel today,” said Fire Chief Tom Coe. “In addition to living his dream of becoming a professional firefighter, Zach was also living his dream of being a family man.”

According to initial reports, someone was trapped in the apartment. This report turned out to be unfounded.

State police say several maydays were given while the fire was being fought.

“The fire progressed to a third alert, with firefighting units from Schuylkill County, Lehigh County, Carbon County and Berks County dispatched to assist,” Chief Bonner said.

Don Smith, Jr., a spokesman for the Lehigh County Communications Center, said the two firefighters were pinched trying to put out the fire and other firefighters worked quickly to try to rescue them. They were taken 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 in the large lot surrounding the home in West Penn Township near Tamaqua, a small coal-country town about 85 miles from Philadelphia.

He was identified Thursday as Christopher Valet, 35, who said Valet lived in the house that caught fire, according to Assistant Medical Examiner Michael Bowman.

Officials did not release further details on the investigation into Valet’s death.

Investigators were on the scene Thursday morning, searching the charred home for evidence of how the fire started and why firefighters were trapped inside.

“Everyone involved is affected. So it’s important that we try to find the best possible answers,” said Trooper Jannsen Herb, who acted as firefighter.

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

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

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

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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