TWO-ALARM STRUCTURE FIRE 32 Rose Street,
PHOTO GALLERY #4
During the early morning hours of Saturday, April 5, 2003, members of Lawrence Road Fire Co. responded to a raging fire that completely engulfed a home in the Eldridge Park neighborhood.
Initially, firefighters feared that two residents – a handicapped woman and her daughter – had been trapped inside the building and killed. But later, after several tense hours, firefighters learned that neither woman had been in the house when the blaze broke out and that both were safe.
It was 4:34 a.m. when Lawrence Control toned out volunteers from Lawrence Road and Slackwood fire companies for “a possible house fire” on Rose Street in the area of Zoar Street.
At 4:37 a.m., as firefighters were still en route to their respective stations, a township police officer reached the scene and radioed his dispatcher that the house at 32 Rose Street was fully-involved with fire.
The police officer reported that there were cars parked in the driveway, but no one was outside, suggesting that the residents were still inside the burning home. About that same time, Lawrence Control dispatched Lawrence First Aid Squad for an ambulance to standby at a “fully-engulfed” house fire on Rose Street.
At 4:38 a.m. Rescue 22 responded with Capt. Chris Pangaldi in command and Ff. Ryan Quill driving, along with a crew that was made up of Lt. Shaun Dlabik, Lt. Michael Ratcliffe and Ff. Joseph Dlabik Jr.
Assistant Chief Wayne Hannon, in his private vehicle, responded at 4:38 a.m.
Slackwood Safety Officer Jack Oakley arrived on the scene at 4:39 a.m. and radioed that he had heavy fire showing through the roof of a single-story residence.
Rescue 22 arrived at 4:40 a.m. and assumed a position in front of the house. Pangaldi immediately advised Mercer County Central Communications Center that Rescue 22’s crew was leading off with a 2.5-inch hoseline.
Shaun Dlabik grabbed the nozzle of the 2.5-inch crosslay as Ratcliffe took the loops of hose on his shoulder and Ff. Chris Longo (who had responded from his home a few blocks away) helped flake out the remaining line.
Shaun Dlabik and Ratcliffe met Oakley on Side D of the house, where heavy fire was already blowing out two windows and the top window in the home’s side door. After Quill charged the 2.5-inch line using tank water, Oakley pulled the door open and Shaun Dlabik and Ratcliffe moved in with the hose to attack the fire.
Pangaldi, meanwhile, completed a quick walk around the house and, after sizing up the situation, ordered Mercer County Central to transmit the second alarm on Box 22-10.
As a result, Lawrenceville Fire Co. was dispatched at 4:42 a.m.
Pangaldi then helped Joseph Dlabik Jr. put one of the 1.75-inch crosslays from Rescue 22 in service at the front of the house.
Hannon, who had also arrived at about 4:40 a.m., then assumed command from Pangaldi. At 4:43 a.m. he ordered Mercer County Central to dispatch Rescue 32 from Pennington Road Fire Co. to the scene as a FAST Team.
The next apparatus to respond were Engine 22 and Snorkel 21, which both signed on radio at 4:40 a.m.
Engine 22 was commanded by Rescue Capt. Andrew Fosina and driven by Ff. Joseph Dlabik Sr., with a crew of Lt. Michael Byrd, Ff. Charles Commini, Ff. Ed Budzinski, Ff. Chris Dlabik, and Junior Ff. Ryan Dlabik.
Engine 22’s arrival time was not logged. Snorkel 21 arrived at 4:45 a.m. While Engine 22 laid 600 feet of its 5-inch hose from Rescue 22 out to a hydrant in front of Longo’s house on Tulane Avenue, near Rolfe Avenue, Snorkel 21 pulled up nose-to-nose with Rescue 22 and its crew went to work.
Rescue 22’s 500 gallons of tank water were quickly depleted, particularly with a 2.5-inch hoseline at work. As a result, firefighters were forced to back away from the house while waiting for a water supply to be established.
The fire had darkened down slightly along Side D and in other parts of the building, but the flames quickly intensified once the 2.5-inch line had been shut down.
A problem with the front suction of Rescue 22 resulted in the supply line that had been laid by Engine 22 having to be repositioned into the steamer intake on the officer’s side of Rescue 22. As a result, there was a slight delay in water supply being established and Rescue 22’s hoselines being recharged.
While in the darkened rear yard of the residence, Pangaldi partially fell into a hole for an old well. Fortunately, he was not seriously injured.
Fosina also suffered a minor tumble while helping with the supply line from Engine 22. Commini later also suffered minor injuries to his arm and shoulder during a fall while operating a 1.75-inch hoseline through a window on Side A of the structure.
After running out of tank water, Shaun Dlabik and Ratcliffe moved the 2.5-inch hoseline away from the house. As the flames flared back up, they burned through the peak on Side D, causing the electrical service line running to the house to fall onto the lawn and some nearby shrubbery.
For a while the fallen electrical wire energized the home’s aluminum siding, causing arcs of deadly blue light to dance over the surface of the wall near the corner between Sides D and C.
At 4:47 a.m., Hannon made an urgent request for PSE&G to respond to the scene.
About one minute later, Ratcliffe (having walked around to check conditions on Side C) called Hannon on the radio and reported that the roof along the rear of the house had partially collapsed.
Hannon, in turn, at 4:49 a.m. radioed Mercer County Central to ordered that an announcement be broadcast that all operations would be from the exterior only and that no one was to enter the building.
After water supply was finally established, additional hoselines was placed in service. Eventually, a total of four 1.75-inch lines and one 2.5-inch line were put to work from Rescue 22.
Telesquirt 23, which signed on radio at 4:46 a.m., arrived on location at 4:58 a.m. and took a position behind Rescue 22 (but still in front of the building).
Engine 21 responded at 4:50 a.m. Their arrival time was not logged, but Engine 21’s crew laid a supply line from Telesquirt 23 to a hydrant at Zoar Street and Manitee Avenue.
Rescue 32 signed on radio at 4:52 a.m. and, after arriving on scene at 5 a.m., its crew assumed a standby position as the FAST Team.
Engine 22-1 and Utility 22 also responded but their response and arrival times were not recorded. Engine 22-1 was manned by Safety Officer James Yates and Ff. Jamie Yates, while Ff. Martin Burch crewed Utility 22. (Engine 22-1 parked near Engine 22 next to Longo’s house.)
Once Engine 21’s supply line was connected, Telesquirt 23 raised its stick and went in service with its master stream. After a while, the bulk of the heaviest fire finally started to darken down.
Finally, at 5:37 a.m., Hannon declared the fire under control.
Interior crews were then sent into the ruins of the structure to hose down the remaining hot spots and to search through the rubble for potential victims.
(At this point, firefighters still feared the two residents had been inside and had been killed by the flames.)
The only section of roof that remained intact was over the garage of the home. To reach hot spots smoldering along the roof line up there, Byrd, Ratcliffe and Lawrenceville Assistant Chief Dave Burns climbed a ground ladder and used axes, pike poles, and a chainsaw to open up the roof material in several sections. A 1.75-inch hoseline was hauled to the roof and used to soak down the whole area.
Firefighters were carefully sifting through the charred shell of the house, searching for two bodies, when police discovered that the two residents who everyone feared had been killed were actually alive and safe elsewhere.
As police learned and, in turn, told firefighters, the handicapped resident had recently moved into a nursing home, while her daughter had decided to spend the night elsewhere.
The daughter later told investigators that she had visited the house on Friday but had smelled some kind of smoky odor coming from the heater. She claimed she turned off the heater and, not wanting to spend the night in a cold house, went to a friend’s house. Investigators eventually concluded the fire started in the area of the heater.
Once the residents were accounted for, firefighters abandoned their systematic search of the rubble and simply hosed everything down to prevent a rekindle.
Rescue 32 was released from the scene at 6:25 a.m. All other apparatus cleared the scene around 8:40 p.m. All three Lawrence Road engines were back at Station 22 by 8:52 a.m. but firefighters spent the next hour cleaning off equipment and working to repack hose and get the apparatus back in service.
The tally of hose used off Lawrence Road engines during the fire included: 700 feet of 1.75-inch, 200 feet of 2.5-inch, 150 feet of 3-inch, and 600 feet of 5-inch.
During the blaze, an engine from Pennington Road and Ladder Tower 33 from West Trenton Fire Co. stood by at Station 22; Prospect Heights’ Squirt 31 covered up Slackwood’s firehouse; and Pennington Borough’s Engine 51 covered Station 23.
At 9:06 a.m., as Lawrence Road volunteers were busy cleaning their equipment, Lawrence Control toned out both Station 22 and Station 21 to an activated fire alarm at 180 Berwyn Place.
Engine 22-1 (commanded by Capt. Gary Wasko, driven by Safety Officer James Yates and crewed by Lt. Michael Byrd and Ff. Martin Burch) responded, along with Engine 21-1 and Snorkel 21, and discovered that the alarm had been accidentally set off by steam from a shower. Engine 22-1 was back in quarters by 9:15 a.m.
At 9:22 a.m. Lawrence Road’s Rescue 22 was dispatched with Slackwood Fire Co. and Lawrence First Aid Squad’s Rescue 129 to an accident with entrapment in front of the McGuinn’s Place tavern at 1781 Brunswick Pike.
Engine 22-1 responded at 9:24 a.m., followed by Engine 21, Rescue 22 and Rescue 129 all at 9:25 a.m.
Rescue 22 was commanded by Capt. Gary Wasko, driven by Ff. Ryan Quill, and manned by a crew of Capt. Chris Pangaldi, Lt. Shaun Dlabik, Lt. Michael Ratcliffe, Ff. Martin Burch, and Ff. Chris Dlabik.
Chief John Fleming also responded in Car 22, however his response times were not logged.
Engine 21-1 arrived at 9:24 a.m. and reported that they had a two-vehicle accident in which a southbound car driven by a woman had rear-ended another vehicle that had stopped and was waiting to make a left turn.
A Lawrence First Aid Squad ambulance crew was already on scene (having been dispatched to the accident several minutes earlier). Although damage to the woman’s car was not excessive, she complained of extensive pain and refused to cooperate with efforts to move her. EMS personnel, therefore, asked for the car’s roof to be removed.
Engine 21 arrived at 9:26 a.m., but the arrival times for Rescue 22 and Rescue 129 were not recorded.
As the crew from Engine 21-1 stood by with a charged 1.75-inch hoseline, members of Rescue 22’s crew went in service with their Holmatro tools and removed the car’s windshield, cut all posts and removed the roof. (Rescue 129’s crew stood by with their Hurst tools as a precaution, but their services ultimately were not needed.)
Slackwood firefighters then assisted EMS personnel in placing the woman onto a backboard and removing her from the car. The extrication was completed by 9:40 a.m. The woman was then transported to a local hospital.
Rescue 22 cleared the scene at 9:47 a.m. and was back in quarters by 9:50 a.m.