DECEMBER 26, 2001
Carter Road, Lawrence Township
At 11:29 p.m. on Wednesday, December 26, 2001, Lawrence Control dispatched the Lawrenceville and Lawrence Road fire companies and Lawrence First Aid Squad for a reported structure fire at the home of Theodore Cross at 233 Carter Road.
Cross home sits on one of several large estates that share the address of 233 Carter Road but all of which are located along the narrow gravel drive known as Poe Road that runs off Carter Road and then winds through the woods before dead-ending near a tributary of the Stony Brook.
(Note: Earlier in the year, on May 28, 2001, Lawrence Road firefighters helped battle a fire in a home located on one of the other estates at 233 Carter Road. See separate entry.)
Seconds after the initial dispatch Mercer County Central Communications Center upgraded to Box 23-2s full first alarm and dispatched the Hopewell Borough and Pennington Borough fire companies to the scene.
Lawrenceville Deputy Chief Don Huber signed on radio at 11:31 p.m.
At 11:32 p.m. Rescue 22 responded with Assistant Chief Wayne Hannon in charge, Ff. Joseph Dlabik Sr. driving, and a crew consisting of Ff. Tim Kasony Jr., Ff. Michael Byrd, Ff. Shaun Dlabik, and Ff. Larry Forker.
Also at 11:32 p.m. Deputy Chief Richard Farletta responded in Car 22-1.
Telesquirt 23 and Rescue 23 both responded at 11:33 p.m.
Engine 22-1 responded next at 11:34 p.m. (Engine 22 was out of service, due to a mechanical fault that arose earlier in the day. Engine 22 was back in service the next morning after the fault was rectified.)
Ff. Ed Budzinski was in charge of Engine 22-1, with Ff. Charles Commini driving, and Ff. Joseph Dlabik Jr. and Ff. Chris Dlabik aboard as the crew.
Engine 52 also responded at 11:34 p.m., with Tanker 52 following at 11:35 p.m.
At 11:35 p.m. a Lawrence Township police officer arrived on scene and reported it was a working fire. As a result, Mercer County Central dispatched Pennington Roads Rescue 32 to respond to the scene at the FAST team.
Ladder Tower 51 responded next at 11:36 p.m., followed at 11:37 p.m. by Engine 51, then by Ladder Tower 23 at 11:40 p.m., and finally by Rescue 32, Tanker 51, and Rescue 52 all at 11:41 p.m.
At 11:39 p.m., Telesquirt 23 arrived on the scene and reported there was heavy fire showing from Side D of Cross large, 2.5-story estate house. Also arriving at 11:39 p.m. were Huber, Farletta, and Rescue 22.
Telesquirt 23 took a position along Side D of the house, where a one-story den attached to the rear of the main section of the house was engulfed in flames.
Telesquirt 23s crew stretched a 1.75-inch hoseline, entered the house through a side door, and attacked the flames in the den.
Rescue 22 was initially ordered to back down Poe Road into the driveway of the Cross estate and then lay a supply line from Telesquirt 23 out to Carter Road.
But, after backing into the driveway, Rescue 22 was ordered to take a position at the front of the home. Engine 52, which reached the scene at 11:40 p.m., was instead ordered to lay the supply line.
Engine 52, in turn, backed down Poe Road into the driveway and then laid 1,000 feet of 4-inch hose from Telesquirt 23 out to Carter Road.
Meanwhile, Rescue 22s crew went over to assist Telesquirt 23s crew. Byrd and Forker stretched a second 1.75-inch hoseline from Telesquirt 23 to the opposite side of the burning den. Kasony and Shaun Dlabik then manned that hoseline.
Byrd and Forker then returned to Rescue 22, where Joseph Dlabik Sr. had raised the light tower and was setting up for cascade operations. Directed by Farletta and Hannon, Byrd and Forker stretched a 1.75-inch hoseline from Rescue 22 in to the main section of the home through the front door. They advanced the hoseline up to the second floor to check for fire extension and protect the house.
They found no fire but encountered heavy heat and smoke inside the house. They ventilated as much as they could by opening and breaking windows.
Meanwhile, Rescue 23 and Engine 22-1 arrived on scene at 11:40 p.m., staged on Carter Road and stood by in case Engine 52 ran out of hose and they were needed to complete the supply line. (Ultimately, Engine 52 had enough hose to finish.)
Tanker 52 reached the scene at 11:41 p.m. and was ordered to drive up Poe Road to supply Telesquirt 23 with water, as the supply line was not yet charged.
Tanker 52, which carries 4,000 gallons of water, proceeded as ordered, took up a position on Side A of the house in front of Rescue 22, and stretched a 4-inch hose to feed Telesquirt 23. (By that time, Telesquirt 23 had run out of water.)
Rescue 23, meanwhile, positioned at the corner of Poe Road and Carter Road and hooked into the supply line laid by Engine 52. Rescue 23 then set up to draft from a portable pond that was erected on Carter Road.
Engine 51 and Ladder Tower 51 arrived on the scene at 11:44 p.m., followed by Ladder Tower 23 at 11:45 p.m., Tanker 51 at 11:47 p.m., and Rescue 52 at 11:51. Rescue 32s arrival was not logged. These units all staged on Carter Road and either helped with the supply line or sent their manpower on foot up Poe Road.
Tanker 51 emptied its 3,500 gallons to fill the portable pond. Rescue 23 then pumped the water through the supply line up to Telesquirt 23.
Engine 22-1 also dumped its 500 gallons of tank water into the portable pond.
While Commini left to refill his tank from a hydrant on the nearby Educational Testing Service grounds, the rest of Engine 22-1s crew prepared to walk up Poe Road to assist with firefighting operations.
However, Joseph Dlabik Jr. and Chris Dlabik were slightly delayed because they stopped to assist Pennington Road Ff. Steve Luck, who fell while trying to pull a stokes basket (filled with FAST team equipment) from the top of Rescue 32.
Joseph Dlabik Jr. used a portable radio to report Lucks fall to Mercer County Central and request EMS assistance. Luck was eventually transported by Lawrence First Aid Squad to The Medical Center at Princeton, where he was treated for an injured shoulder and later released.
The two Dlabiks then met back up with Budzinski in front of the burning house, and all three firefighters then proceeded to assist with ventilation efforts in the main section of the home. They eventually set up a fan on the third floor.
At 11:58 p.m., Huber declared the fire under control. But overhaul and salvage continued for the next hour.
Several firefighters, including Hannon and Farletta, carried more than a dozen paintings from the house that were part of Cross private art collection. Many of the paintings were damaged and blackened by the intense smoke and soot.
Rescue 22s crew helped overhaul the den by pulling ceilings for hot spots and Joseph Dlabik Sr. refilled several air bottles with Rescue 22s cascade system. He refilled approximately 18 bottles.
The den and its contents of books and furniture were entirely destroyed by the fire. Although the flames did not reach the main section of the home, there was heavy damage from intense heat and smoke. Plastic fixtures on the opposite side of the home were found to be partially melted.
The fire was investigated by Lawrence police Detective Joe Lech, Lawrence Fire Marshal Dale Robbins, Mercer County Fire Marshal George Lenhardt, and Detective Gary Wasko (a Lawrence Road member) from the Mercer County Prosecutors Office.
The cause of the blaze was eventually ruled to have been electrical in nature. Investigators found evidence that the fire started when wires for a HVAC system short-circuited on the exterior of the den. Fire then extended to the interior.
Huber started recalling units at about 1 a.m. Engine 22-1 was released at 1:08 a.m. and was back in quarters at Station 22 by 1:17 a.m. Rescue 22 was released at 1:28 p.m. and returned to the firehouse by 1:38 p.m.
Telesquirt 23 was the last unit to clear the scene at 1:50 a.m.
During the incident, an engine from Pennington Road stood by at Station 22 and an engine from Slackwood Fire Co. covered the Lawrenceville firehouse.
Hopewell was covered by an engine from Montgomery Fire Co. 2, while an engine from Union Fire Co. of Titusville relocated to stand by at Penningtons firehouse.
Linda Dlabik and Lauren Pawliski, members of the Lawrence Road Fire Co. Ladies Auxiliary, brought hot coffee and doughnuts to Station 22 for the cover-up crew and for Lawrence Road volunteers to enjoy when they returned to the firehouse.