History 1988-1990

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1988

May 9, 1988
During the meeting held on Monday, May 9, 1988, James Yates resigned as assistant chief. Alan Laird then was appointed to the rank of assistant chief. The battalion chief’s post remained vacant and was later abolished.

May 29, 1988
Flames destroyed a row of six homes on Hart Avenue in the City of Trenton on Sunday, May 29, 1988. From 12:28 p.m. until 4 p.m., Lawrence Road firefighters stood by at Trenton Engine 9.

June 18, 1988
On Saturday, June 18, 1988, Lawrence Road Fire Co. held a grand opening for the new hall that was built to replace the one destroyed in the fire on December 21, 1986. During the ceremony, a plaque was presented to the widow of Walter Lukaszewski, the Slackwood fire police officer who died in the line of duty at the fire.

June 23, 1988
A rescue was performed by Lawrence Road Firefighters John Barone and John LemMon during a house fire at 10 Rydal Drive on Thursday, June 23, 1988. Lawrence Road and Slackwood firefighters were dispatched to the blaze, which was caused by careless smoking, at 6:12 p.m. Slackwood Assistant Chief Jack Oakley Jr. and his father, Jack Oakley Sr., arrived before fire apparatus and were informed that a handicapped man was trapped on the second floor. Without protective clothing or breathing apparatus the two Oakleys attempted to rescue the man but they were driven back by intense heat and smoke. At that point, Firefighters Barone and LemMon, in full turnout gear and SCBA, entered the superheated, smoke-charged atmosphere and rescued William Dowler. Dowler had burns over 72 percent of his body. The Oakleys, Barone and LemMon were later honored for their heroism by the Lawrence Road Fire Co. The following account was printed in the Trenton Times on Friday, June 24, 1988:

“A father of four was critically burned last night after he was trapped in his second-floor bedroom and pulled to safety by firefighters who attributed the fire to careless smoking. The fire, which left the family of six homeless, began shortly after 6 p.m. in a second-floor bathroom at 10 Rydal Drive, said Alan Laird, assistant chief of the Lawrence Road Fire Co. William Dowler, 39, apparently was smoking in his second-floor bedroom when he asked his wife, Susan, to extinguish his cigarette, according to preliminary investigations. She then threw the cigarette into a paper bag under the sink in the bathroom, Laird said. Susan Dowler told police and fire officials she heard a crackling sound and returned upstairs, but was overcome with smoke when she opened the bedroom door. She then grabbed her daughter, Michelle, and two sons, Alan and Con, and ran outside. Police said a second daughter, Lisa, was not at home when the blaze broke out.

“When firefighters from the Slackwood and Lawrence Road fire companies arrived at the scene, they were told by Mrs. Dowler and the children that her husband was trapped upstairs, Laird said. An initial rescue attempt failed when Jack Oakley Jr., Slackwood assistant chief, and his father, Jack Oakley Sr., were overcome by smoke, Laird said. Lawrence Road Firefighters John Barone and John LemMon then made a second attempt and found Dowler face-down near the bed, he added. ‘His back was blackened when they brought him out, but I couldn’t be sure if that was soot or burns,’ Patrolman Ed Conroy said. Police said Dowler suffered from phlebitis and apparently had limited mobility. A wheelchair was found on the first floor, Conroy said. Dowler was taken to Helene Fuld Medical Center and then transferred to the burn unit at St. Barnabas Hospital in Livingston. Nursing supervisors at both hospitals said he was in critical condition with extensive burns to the back, face and arms. The scene outside the house, which was partially hidden by a large tree, belied the tragedy. The windows in the front right of the second floor had been shattered, and the interior of the floor was charred. Only a small knot of neighbors had gathered outside and all of them said they had not seen the fire.”

September 26, 1988
At 2:15 p.m, on Monday, September 26, 1988, Lawrence Road Fire Co. was dispatched to a house fire at 140 Hazelhurst Avenue. The blaze in the two-story dwelling apparently started in the area of a mattress in the attic. Lawrence Road firefighters used 500 feet 1.75-inch hose to combat the blaze. Flames burned through the roof and destroyed the house. The following news brief was printed in the Trenton Times on Tuesday, September 27, 1988: “Three family members fled a burning house yesterday afternoon but firefighters were unable to save their home. Firefighters rushing from the Lawrence Road Fire Co. could see smoke billowing from the home of John Murphy Jr., about two blocks away in the 100 block of Hazelhurst Avenue, according to Chief Ted Clemen. ‘There was fire shooting from the upstairs windows when firefighters arrived,’ Clemen said. A woman and two children escaped the home without injury, he added. Firefighters arrived at 2:15 p.m. and remained until shortly after 7 p.m. The attic was heavily damaged by fire and there was extensive water damage downstairs, Clemen said. The fire appears to have begun in the attic but the precise cause remains under investigation.”

November 24, 1988
Reed Road in Hopewell Township was the scene of a fatal fire on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1998. At 2:57 a.m., Engine 22-1 was dispatched to the fireground for cascade duties. About a dozen SCBA bottles were filled. The following account was printed in the Trenton Times on Saturday, November 26, 1988:

“Working amid the charred remains of their blackened home, family members mourned the loss of 21-year-old Robert Woodward yesterday, killed when fire swept through the Reed Road house early Thanksgiving morning. Sleeping along in a second-floor bedroom of the small, six-room house he shared with his parents, brother and two friends, Woodward died in a tragic 2:30 a.m. blaze that was apparently sparked by an electrical short in an adjacent bedroom, according to Hopewell Township Detective George Meyer.

Woodward’s father, Robert Sr., desperately tried to reach his sleeping son immediately after walking to the acrid smell of smoke in his first-floor bedroom. Brad Johnson, one of Robert’s friends who had been sleeping on the living room sofa, joined the elder Woodward to battle the thickening stream of smoke in the stairway, but both were forced down the steps by smoke and intense heat, according to Meyer. Woodward’s mother, Peggy, telephoned police and fire departments. ‘There was nothing they could do,’ Meyer said. ‘By the time our men got there minutes later flames were already shooting down the stairway.’

“Fire officials in protective gear arrived shortly after the police and made their way upstairs to the bedroom to carry Woodward, long overcome by smoke, out of the house, Meyer said. Woodward, who was found in his bed, did not appear to have ever awakened. He was taken to Mercer Medical Center where he was declared dead of smoke inhalation shortly after 4 a.m. Woodward’s brother, Michael, 16, who normally slept in the bedroom in which the fire broke out, had come downstairs in the night and fallen asleep in a chair, Meyer said. One smoke detector in the house ‘did not appear to have had a battery in it,’ Meyer said. As for what caused the electrical short, ‘there were several things plugged in and on, but we haven’t determined exactly what was responsible. Firefighters struggled to bring the blaze under control shortly after 3 a.m. The entire second floor was gutted, Meyer said, and the downstairs rooms were destroyed by water and smoke. Firefighters remained on the scene until 6:30 a.m.”

1989

January 10, 1989
Capt. Clinton Groover suffered a fracture to his left hand while fighting a fire at Notre Dame High School on Tuesday, January 10, 1989. Lawrence Road Fire Co. was dispatched at 10:51 p.m. All three engines from Station 22 responded, along with Slackwood’s Engine 21-2 and Snorkel 21 and Lawrenceville’s Engine 23-3 and Ladder 23. Firefighters arrived to find heavy smoke in the nurses office and first-floor corridor. The fire was discovered burning inside a wall. Lawrence Road firefighters used 100 feet of 2.5-inch hose and 850 feet of 1.75-inch hose. Lawrence Road firefighters returned to Station 22 at 3 a.m. The following account was printed in the Trenton Times on Thursday, January 12, 1989:

“A fluke chain of events sparked the Tuesday night fire at Notre Dame High School but another fluke led to the early discovery of the fire and its containment with little damage. The fire started with an electrical malfunction in a janitorial supply room adjacent to the nurse’s office, said Lawrence police Detective Dave Burns, who investigated with Mercer County Fire Marshal George Lenhardt. The short circuit inside a wall electrical box energized the metal box, which in turn energized the wire mesh in the plaster wall. When the mesh heated sufficiently it ignited the wall studs, Burns said. The fire was discovered inadvertently when some students tripped a burglar alarm while leaving the cafeteria at 10:30 p.m. When Patrolman Tom Prettyman responded and entered the building, he reported the fire. ‘It was an absolute fluke that those kids triggered that alarm and the officer went inside, otherwise that fire would have burned until it broke through the roof and somebody saw it,’ Burns said. The fire could have begun as early as 8 p.m., when custodians recalled smelling smoke but were unable to locate its source, Burns said.”

January 20, 1989
Another blaze broke out at Notre Dame High School on Friday, January 20, 1989. Lawrence Road Fire Co. was dispatched at 10:14 p.m. Lawrence Road firefighters used 150 feet of 2.5-inch hose and 200 feet of 1.75-inch hose and returned to Station 22 by 2 a.m. The following account was printed in the Trenton Times on Saturday, January 21, 1989: “For the second time in as many weeks, fire engines last night were dispatched en masse to Notre Dame High School after a fire was discovered in the building. Firefighters were called to the school, located on Lawrenceville Road, at about 10:10 p.m. after a cleaning crew found heavy smoke in the rooms of the school, police said. Officials said firefighters had difficulty at first locating the source of the smoke because air vents had pumped it throughout the building, but traced the smoke to the band room, adjacent to the auditorium. The fire was found and quickly extinguished, officials said. Township Detective David Burns, investigating the fire, said little damage was done. ‘Primarily, it was a lot of smoke.’ Lawrence Road, Lawrenceville, and Slackwood fire companies responded to the fire last night.”

June 11, 1989
At 8:31 a.m. on Sunday, June 11, 1989, Lawrence Road Fire Co. was dispatched to assist Lawrenceville firefighters extinguish a fire in the attic of the home at 665 Rosedale Road. The following account was printed in the Trenton Times on Monday, June 12, 1989: “A 100-watt bulb in a fixture designed for no more than 60 watts sparked a fire yesterday that damaged a home on the 600 block of Rosedale Road. The fire was reported at 8:21 a.m. when the residents, Esther and Clarence Johnson, smelled smoke overhead as they sat at the breakfast table, said Chief Kevin Reading of the Lawrenceville Fire Co. The 100-watt bulb overheated the recessed lighting fixture, which in turn ignited a joist and ceiling insulation, Reading said. Fire spread throughout the attic and burned roof rafters but firefighters contained the flames to the attic. Firefighters carried smoldering items from the attic in metal buckets and doused them outside in order to limit water damage to the living area, Reading said. He estimated no more than 200 gallons of water were needed to extinguish the fire, which was controlled in about 20 minutes. ‘Everything was pretty well contained to the attic,’ Reading said. ‘The guys did a good job of getting the fire out.’ The Lawrence Road Fire Co. assisted at the scene, while the Slackwood Fire Co. stood by in the Lawrenceville firehouse.”

September 5, 1989
At 11:40 p.m. on Tuesday, September 5, 1989, the Lawrence Road Fire Co. was dispatched to help extinguish a fire at the Ewing Television store in the 1700 block of North Olden Avenue in Ewing Township. The following account was printed in the Trenton Times on Thursday, September 7, 1989: “An electrical problem in the office of Ewing TV is the suspected cause of a huge fire that swept the North Olden Avenue business late Tuesday night. Prospect Heights Fire Chief Bill Erney said about 100 firefighters from 11 fire companies in Ewing, Lawrence, Pennington, Hamilton, Titusville, and Yardley-Makefield, Pa., joined forced in the two hour battle to control the flames. The fire consumed the building at Parkside and North Olden avenues that housed Ewing TV and its inventory of television sets, VCRs, videotapes and other equipment, and Pip Printing, Erney said. The fire appears to have started in the television business office, he said. Bill Scarra, owner of Pip Printing, said the devastating fire was a virtual repeat of a blaze 10 years ago that also originated at Ewing TV. (Editor’s Note: The earlier fire was on May 23, 1979). ‘I was out of business, then I was back in business, now I am out of business again,’ he said. The fire burned fiercely between the two layers of roof on the building, one made of wood and the other of corrugated metal, and the roof threatened to collapse beneath firefighters struggling to cut ventilation holes, Erney said. ‘It was the first time in my career that we had to us our distress signal, five air horns, which means get out of the building,’ he said. The fire was under control at about 1:30 a.m. yesterday morning but firefighters were not finished at the scene until 5 a.m.”

January 18, 1990
Chief Charles Commini rescued a man from a fire at 139 Merline Avenue on Thursday, January 18, 1990. Firefighters arrived to find flames in a dining room and used a 1.75-inch handline to knock down the fire. There was some minor extension to the attic. Slackwood Fire Co. assisted at the scene. The following story was printed in the Trentonian on Friday, January 19, 1990: “A township fire chief carried an 85-year-old man out of his burning home last night after running in to find the owner was tossing glasses of water on the flames. Chief Charles Commini of the Lawrence Road Fire Co. said Rubin Joyner didn’t want to leave his burning bungalow on Merline Avenue. ‘I had to pick him right up and carry him out,’ said Commini. ‘He wanted to keep fighting the fire – and he was a stubborn old goat.’ Joyner, a resident of the home for 70 years who gets around with help of a walker, was admitted to Mercer Medical Center for observation for minor smoke inhalation. Firemen said the blaze started in the dining room wall, but what touched it off remained under investigation. Detective Dave Burns said there were no electrical wires behind the wall and that there was ‘no reason for the fire to start high up on the wall like that.’ Commini’s crew brought the fire under control in minutes, and the chief later said Joyner should be able to return to it in a few days, after some minor repairs…”

February 26, 1990
At 1:15 a.m. on Monday, February 26, 1990, Lawrence Road firefighters were dispatched mutual aid to assist the Princeton Fire Department in battling a blaze involving four businesses, including the Thomas Sweets ice cream shop, on Nassau Street in Princeton Borough. Lawrence Road firefighters laid 400 feet f 4-inch hose for water supply and assisted in fire suppression operations. Lawrence Road firefighters finally returned to Station 22 at 7:10 a.m. Lawrence Road Firefighter Ron Krzos suffered frostbite and fell during the fire. He was treated at The Medical Center at Princeton. The following account was printed in the Trenton Times on Tuesday, February 27, 1990:

“Fire destroyed two historic buildings on Nassau Street early yesterday, blazing unchecked for almost five hours before firefighters could control it. Damage to the Princeton University-owned buildings at 179 and 183 Nassau Street was assessed at $1.5 million, said Mercer County Prosecutor Paul T. Koenig Jr. Five people were left homeless in the blaze, which was reported at 12:46 a.m., and four businesses – The American Diner, Wadsworth’s Gourmet Bakery, Thomas Sweets Ice Cream and Chocolates and Zorba’s Grill – were wiped out. While all tenants got out before fire reached the second floor, five firefighters did not escape unscathed. After battling the blaze in 9 degree temperatures, two firefighters were treated for hypothermia, one fireman was treated for a broken thumb and two suffered smoke inhalation. ‘I don’t know how I did it. I was in there fighting the fire in Wadsworth’s and when I came out and my hands started to thaw out I noticed that it hurt,’ said Princeton Firefighter David Bogle, which right thumb was broken.

“Firefighters from fire surrounding communities – Princeton Junction, Kingston, Lawrence, South Brunswick, and Montgomery – also turned out to help control the blaze by 5:20 a.m. ‘Those guys were working so hard – there was one fellow that was pretty much trapped up in a corner for more than two hours, holding a hose down on the flames from the roof,’ said John Tzovolos, co-owner of the Athenian restaurant, who showed up to serve coffee and doughnuts to the firefighters. ‘They finally got him down, though, and he was unhurt.’ Nassau Street was closed to traffic all day yesterday while investigators sifted through the charred debris. Workers yesterday used a crane to remove heavy air conditioning equipment from the roof to make it safe for officials to enter. The two buildings in Princeton’s historic district were constructed in the early 19th century. Ellen Abernathy, manager of Thomas Sweets ice cream shop, first reported the fire after finding smoke in the basement. She said firefighters had a hard time discovering the source of the fire. ‘This building has so many nooks and crannies it was hard for them to see,’ she said. According to university spokesman Justin Harmon, the fire began in the American Diner on the corner of 179 Nassau Street...”

March 18, 1990
At 8:45 p.m. on Sunday, March 18, 1990, Lawrence Road firefighters were dispatched mutual aid to Pennington Borough after a blaze broke out at the Pennington Industrial Center. Engine 22-3 responded to the scene and laid 900 feet of 5-inch hose as part of a water relay. Engine 22-1 was sent to stand by at the Pennington Road firehouse but was then relocated to the scene to assist. Mercer Engine 3 stood by at Station 22 during the incident. The last Lawrence Road personnel returned to Station 22 about 5:30 a.m. The following account was printed in the Trenton Times on Monday, March 19, 1990: “Vile-smelling and toxic smoke from an explosive fire in an industrial park forced the evacuation of about 60 houses last night. At 8:41 p.m. area residents reported an explosion and fire ripping through a building housing Pennington Metals and the Lee Howard Co. businesses in the Pennington Industrial Center alongside Route 31. Soon thick smoke was blanketing the neighborhood. ‘When we arrived, we saw flaming debris shooting through the air,’ said Jim Boozan, a paramedic with the Mercer County Mobile Intensive Care Unit. The building was engulfed in flames when the first units of the Pennington Fire Co. arrived, and firefighters were uncertain what chemicals were burning. Witnesses reported flames shooting 70 feet into the sky and fire lines stretched nearly a mile to tap hydrants. Concerns about the toxicity of the smoke, and the difficulty of tracking its spread in the overcast night sky, prompted the evacuation of about 60 houses on Reading Street, West Welling Avenue, and Hale Street...”

April 23, 1990
The house at 68 Merline Avenue was badly damaged by flames on Monday, April 23, 1990. The alarm was transmitted to Lawrence Road firefighters at 8:20 a.m. Two 1.75-inch handlines were placed in service to attack the blaze, which was located in a second-floor bedroom. The fire was started by an electrical fault. The following story was publishing in the Trentonian on Tuesday, April 24, 1990: “A family of 10 was left homeless yesterday by a fire that started in the same electrical outlet that caused a smaller fire exactly one year ago. The Merline Avenue house of the McRae family was gutted. An electrical outlet sparked onto wood paneling on a rear upstairs bedroom at 8:20 a.m. Ann McRae, 66, said the outlet was the same one that caused a minor fire on April 24, 1989. McRae said the township inspected and approved the outlet after last year’s fire. In yesterday’s fire, it looks like waters leaked through a soap dish from the tub and hit the outlet. Chief Charles Commini of the Lawrence Road Fire Co. spotted smoke from his home one block over and reached the scene first. Cynthia McRae said she, her three children and other family members were having breakfast when flames ‘kicked out bad from that outlet. We heard sounds upstairs, like someone walking, but nobody was up there. Then someone opened the back door and all the window glasses blew out. They were just exploded out and then this big billow of smoke came out the windows.’ Fueled by wood paneling and the finishing materials used in the second floor, the flames quickly hit the ceiling beams. Before firemen brought the blaze under control, the flames had burned through the roof…”

August 10, 1990
The historic Jigger Shop at 2651 Main Street was destroyed by flames on the morning of Friday, August 10, 1990. Lawrence Road firefighters were dispatched at 3:40 a.m. and operated on scene until 8 a.m. The following account was printed in the Trenton Times on Saturday, August 11, 1990: “An early morning fire yesterday severely damaged the Jigger Shop, a historic landmark which most recently served as the bookstore of the Lawrenceville School but for many years, beginning around the turn of the century, contained a soda fountain and was a favorite hangout for the school’s students. The fire destroyed the contents of the shop, including textbooks, school supplies and clothing, and burned into an unoccupied apartment above the shop, according to Chief Kevin Reading of the Lawrenceville Fire Co. Reading said the fire was caused by faulty electrical cords which ran to a large refrigerator unit in the shop. The fire was reported at 3:40 a.m. by a neighbor who heard a window blow out of the shop and saw smoke pouring out... When firefighters arrived yesterday, thick black smoke was pouring from the first- and second-floor windows of the two-story wooden structure, Reading said. ‘Everything in the store was destroyed,’ he said. ‘They had just stocked up for the fall. There were books, school supplies, clothing, everything they would need in their rooms.’ The flames burned through the ceiling of the store into the second-floor apartment, causing heavy heat and smoke damage there, Reading said. Firefighters from the Lawrence Road, Slackwood and Pennington Borough fire companies also fought the blaze.”

August 16, 1990
At 8:23 a.m. on Thursday, August 16, 1990, Engine 22-1 responded to the scene of a fire at 701 Parkway Avenue in Ewing Township for manpower. Engine 22-1 did not return to Station 22 until 10:20 a.m. The following account was printed in the Trenton Times on Friday August 17, 1990: “A maintenance man removing paint with a torch sparked a three-alarm fire that destroyed four apartments yesterday morning. The blaze erupted about 8:15 a.m. at the Parkway Gardens at 701 Parkway Avenue while the maintenance worker was scorching paint from the side of the building, said Bill Bennett, assistant chief of the Prospect Heights Fire Co. A spark from the torch ignited the attic of the two-story complex. From there, the fire spread inside the walls, Bennett said. ‘We had a very heavy smoke condition in the attic area when we arrived,’ he said. There was a fire wall in the apartment attic, but it did not reach to the roof. The flames leaped the fire wall and spread throughout the attic, Bennett said. The fire was brought under control in about 45 minutes. The heat and humidity took a toll on firefighters, three of whom were treated at the scene for heat exhaustion. The fire went to three alarms in order to have enough manpower to allow firefighters to take frequent breaks, Bennett said. The fire and efforts to fight it left four apartments uninhabitable, Bennett said. Prospect Heights firefighters were assisted by the Pennington Road, West Trenton, Slackwood, Lawrence Road and Yardley-Makefield fire companies.”

December 21, 1990
Two dogs perished in a fire that heavily damaged the two-story dwelling at 70 Merline Avenue on Friday, December 21, 1990. Lawrence Road firefighters, who received that alarm at 6:54 p.m., arrived to find the first-floor living room heavily involved with flames. The fire extended to the second floor above the living room before two 1.75-inch handlines were placed in service to knock down the flames. The following account was printed in the Trenton Times on Saturday, December 22, 1990: “An elderly woman was slightly burned by a fire in the living room of her Merline Avenue home last night. Homeowner Hattie Scott, 66, received first-degree burns to the face and neck and her 82-year-old cousin, Miranda Thomas, who lives with Scott, escaped from the blazing two-story home about 7 p.m. Thomas, who police said was a heart patient, was taken by ambulance to Mercer Medical Center for slight smoke inhalation and precautionary examinations. Scott was treated at the same hospital and released. Flames were ‘blazing out of the windows and front door like crazy,’ according to David Moore, 22, who said he was driving down Merline Avenue to visit friends and saw the fire. ‘She was yelling to call the fire department,’ said Sharon McRae, 28, who lives next door. Scott was standing on her back porch when McRae and her family heard her. ‘We ran out and helped her,’ McRae said. Scott was ‘yelling about her two dogs,’ McRae said. Witnesses described the dogs as chihuahuas. ‘She said there were two dogs. There was just too much fire to get the dogs. The flames were coming out the front a good 15 feet,’ said Lawrence Road Fire Co. Chief Charles Commini. Firefighters recovered the bodies of both dogs last night, he said. Commini said the cause of the blaze is unknown.”

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