Trapped by a trunk

By on July 30, 2014

House loses to tree, but homeowner escapes with only minor injuries

LR20140731_CBrickervilleTree05The little frame ranch-style house along the 200 block of West 28th Division Highway was no match for the 100-foot-tall tree in last week’s powerful storm.

As the impact of drenching rains and furious winds overtook much of Lancaster County, a towering poplar crashed onto the house, trapping homeowner Chang Fogner under a mass of debris.

Brickerville Fire Chief Jeff Strauss was one of the first on scene shortly after 6:30 p.m. on July 23. It didn’t take very long for this veteran firefighter to assess the situation and call for reinforcements. And, the fact a victim was buried under the rubble only increased the urgency.

“Upon arrival, it was clear we had a total roof collapse, the ceiling was gone, the floors were sagging, and an exterior wall was bowed,” he said. “And we had neighbors on scene who had made verbal contact with a woman inside who we could hear but not see.”

Strauss was soon joined by the Lancaster County Rescue Task Force as well as ladders and apparatus from the Brunnerville, Lititz, Millersville and Penryn fire companies.

Once on site, it took about 35 minutes to free Fogner, the chief said. She was found totally buried under debris in what had been a hallway in her home.

“The two roof trusses were only about five or six inches above her head,” Strauss said. “A couple of our guys crawled in, and air bags were inserted to stabilize the structure.”

By the time Fogner was extracated, an hour had passed since the storm struck and the tree fell.

She was transported to Hershey Medical Center by Warwick ambulance. Strauss said she was very lucky, suffering only a minor concussion, bumps and bruises. Fogner was released from the hospital in the early morning hours of July 24.

Strauss credits Fogner’s neighbors with much of her good fortune. Knowing her husband was at work, the neighbors saw the fallen tree on the house and immediately ran to check on her. When they heard her cries, the neighbors immediately called 9-1-1. Fogner was unable to summon help herself, as her cell phone had fallen to the kitchen floor.

Strauss believes the 996-square-foot house is likely beyond repair, but added that restoration crews have been on the scene this week.

The Red Cross has been assisting Fogner and her husband, Eugene. The couple was unable to re-enter their property to retrieve clothes.

The chief is not certain where the Fogners are staying, but he did note they have a camper on the property and may be staying in that.

Strauss said he and an Elizabeth Township codes officer saw the roof and wall damage, as well as a caved-in floor, and deemed the circa 1972 house uninhabitable. They tagged it as unsafe.

A small mixed breed dog was also rescued uninjured from the house.

“I’ve been with the department for 35 years,” he said, “and I’ve never had any calls like this.”

The frequent violent storms this summer have taken their toll on trees in the area. Strauss, who has been chief for 18 months, said there have been three other toppled tree incidents, all involving vehicles. In one case, a huge branch impaled a windshield just between the driver and passenger. Neither was injured.

Strauss advises homeowners to assess the conditions of trees on their properties, especially those close to their homes. He also notes that drivers who find themselves in a storm should look for a clearing to pull into until the bad weather passes.

“Just make sure there are no trees nearby,” he stressed.

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