Victim identified in fatal apartment fire above PaPa J’s in Carnegie |
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Tony LaRussa
Firefighters remained at the scene of a Friday night fire in Carnegie on Saturday, March 3, 2018. The blaze engulfed the building that houses the popular PaPa J's restaurant on the first floor.

The man who died in a fire that engulfed a Carnegie apartment building late Friday night was a long-time maintenance worker for the family that owned the building.

John Michael Wells, 64, who lived in the three-story building at the corner of East Main Street and Broadway Avenue, was rushed to UPMC Mercy Hospital shortly after the five-alarm fire broke out at around 10 p.m.

The well-known restaurant PaPa J’s is on the first floor.

Wells was pronounced dead at 5:32 p.m. on Saturday, according to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office. An autopsy will be conducted to determine the cause and manner of his death.

Michael Troiani, whose family owns the building and restaurant, said Wells did maintenance for the family’s properties since 1987.

Wells’ sister, Helen Campbell, told Tribune-Review news partner WPXI-TV that her brother died of smoke inhalation.

“You don’t see knights in shining armor anymore, but that’s what he was,” Campbell said.

Laura Szymanski, who lives in the building, said she heard smoke alarms go off shortly after she got home from work but was not over overly concerned.

“I kind of ignored it because it’s happened a few times before, when somebody burns food while cooking,” she said. “But when I started hearing all this commotion in the building, I realized it was time to get out.”

At least one person had to be rescued from an upper-floor window with a ladder truck. A second victim, whose name and condition have not been released, was also taken to the hospital, according to Matt Brown, chief of the Allegheny County Emergency Services.

A third person was evaluated at the scene but not taken for treatment, Brown said.

The fire was brought under control about 4 a.m. but firefighters remained on the scene through much of Saturday dousing hot spots and sifting through rubble in the building, according to authorities.

The building sustained heavy damage, including a partial collapse of the roof. The fire is under investigation by the Allegheny County fire marshal.

The fire displaced about 25 residents, 13 of whom are being assisted by The Red Cross of Western Pennsylvania, according to the organization’s Twitter feed.

The streets surrounding the site of the fire were closed off to vehicle traffic for much of the day Saturday. A number of businesses were closed because power had to be shut off due to the fire.

The Family Dollar store on Broadway was reopened for business on Sunday, but the Marathon gas station, which is typically open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., remained closed.

Carnegie council President Sue Demko said the borough engineer conducted an initial investigation into the building’s condition on Saturday but will need time to determine whether it can be salvaged.

“We’ll be discussing the fire and status of the building at our meeting on Monday night,” Demko said this morning.

The borough’s regular workshop meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m.

“That building and the owners are a big part of this community,” she said. “Everybody is rallying behind them (the Troianis) and offering whatever help we can provide.”

Demko described the building as a landmark in the borough and that the restaurant it houses draws people to the community’s downtown shopping district.

Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-772-6368 or [email protected] or via Twitter @TonyLaRussaTrib.

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