Fire on Anderson Street on March 8th
The Raritan Fire Department along with help from the Somerville, Country Hill, & Bradley Gardens fire departments fought the blaze
It was Thursday, March 8th, and the Raritan Fire Department was meeting for their monthly “work detail.” This is where maintenance is done on the trucks and the firefighting tools are repaired. Their meeting began with having to respond to an alarm at the new River Park apartments. However this turned out to be a false alarm. An hour later, three firefighters, who were moving equipment, were riding in the Fire Utility Vehicle from the Anderson Street firehouse to the North Thompson Street firehouse. As they headed north on Anderson Street they saw flames and smoke coming from a home that was just north of the St. Ann’s Rectory. The usual routine is that firefighters are called to a fire, but this time the firefighters would be the ones calling in the fire. The group called back on their “Fire Band Radio” to Raritan Fire Chief Carl Memoli who was at the Anderson Street Firehouse. They told him of the raging fire. While Carl heard them loud and clear, he still asked them to repeat the message, did the firemen really just happen to find a fire? Indeed they had.
Carl then called in the fire to the County Communications 911 Center—reporting the location and asking for Somerville’s Aerial truck as the new Raritan Aerial truck was still being built. The aerial firetruck has a boom which can raise the platform 75’ in the air. This aerial can be used for rescue operations or for shooting water. There were a dozen firefighters with the chief and they jumped into the two fire trucks which happened to be idling at the time. They thus were able to get to the scene of the fire within a minute of the call.
When the fire was first noticed, it was raging fiercely out of the upstairs windows. An immediate call from the police (who had been notified through another source) to the fire chief said that a witness said that someone was still inside downstairs. As this message was heard the firefighters saw an elderly man being helped by two young guys away from of the building. Rather than assume that this was the man inside that the police were referring to, the fire chief went over to confirm that this man indeed had just been inside, and also that the men leaving the home was sure that no one else was still inside. Knowing whether a burning building is occupied or not is crucial to the fire department, as it helps determine the level of risk that is acceptable. It is not wise to endanger the lives of firefighters when a burning building is unoccupied.
Later it was learned that a smoke detector had alerted a painter inside the home. He had heard the alarm and went to see what was happening and saw the fire. The painter notified the home’s owner, John Russo—who was then helped out of the building. An advertising line heard on one television commercial says “Smoke Detectors Save Lives”. It is indeed true. One thing that aids firefighters when fighting a fire is to turn off the gas and electricity in the burning building. Raritan’s fire department did enter the burning building - moving quickly and carefully to the basement to turn off the gas valves and electricity. They were able to accomplish this as the initial flames were upstairs. Live gas lines and electric lines can complicate the fighting of a fire. While one crew of firefighters was in the basement shutting off the utilities, another crew was advancing a hose line up the steps to the second floor. Their mission was to find the fire and extinguish it.
At the top of the stairs they were met with tremendous heat and thick black smoke, only to find that the stairway dead-ended and they could not gain access to the front apartment where the fire was raging. After the gas and electric were off and the hose crew reported that they could not get to the fire, all of the firefighters were ordered out of the house and the decision was made not to re-enter the building. The fire was burning too intensely and the building could not be saved. The intensity of a fire is determined by what is burning and the length of time it is burning. This fire had been burning for sometime before it was spotted.
Many fire trucks arrived to put out the inferno. Raritan had three trucks, Somerville brought it’s aerial truck and a pumper and Country Hills Fire Company and Bradley Gardens Fire Company worked at the scene as well. Three fire hydrants flowed water to the fire trucks. Each truck can have up to four to six hoses squirting water. The amount of water that can be pumped from one truck is 1250 gallons per minute or more (that’s more than 20 gallons per second!). The firefighting strategy employed at this fire on Anderson Street was to protect the surrounding area so no other building would get destroyed. This was indeed accomplished by Raritan’s Bravest. A house right next to the fire (just 20 feet away) only suffered minor damage. Containing a fire is not always easy. In an intense fire, roofs often collapse causing small pieces of flaming debris (called embers) to be blown by the wind as far as several blocks away from the initial fire. This can start secondary fires.
It took approximately 90 minutes to get this fire under control. It was a challenging job. The heat from the fire, especially at it’s peak, is intense. At times, firefighters had to stand back 50 feet with their hoses as it was too hot to get any closer. The heat from the flames caused the windshield on one fire truck to crack and the red plastic covering the warning lights on this same truck to melt. Another obstacle that night was the cold. As the initial heat started to subside, the water that drained off the building started to freeze, causing the firefighters to slip. Firefighters took several good falls, but luckily there were no injuries. Also, the large amount of water sprayed caused mist to build in the air which then accumulated on the firefighters' jackets. The mist quickly turned to ice causing several firemen’s jackets to freeze solid.
After the fire is contained, the next step is to find the small smoldering pockets of fire that are hidden in cracks and corners and under the collapsed debris of the building. In this case, the building had suffered several collapses and was structurally unsound and not savable by any means. So to allow the firefighters to access the remaining pockets of fire and extinguish them, a backhoe from Raritan’s Public Works was called in. With the building severely damaged, the back hoe was able to pick apart the remaining pieces of the building easily. Then access to the small pockets of fire was possible. The firemen finished at the scene around midnight.
They came back to the firehouse to drain the fire hoses—some were filled with ice. They also had to “reset” for the next fire, putting tools and hose back in place and filling the engine with water. At 2AM the firemen were finally able to go home after an eventful night. Fire Chief Carl Memoli said that “all personnel did a great job. Everyone worked together very well.” There were not only firefighters from several departments, but also at the scene were police, rescue personal, public works, and the county mutual aid coordinator.
The Raritan firefighters are always on call. Even when sleeping, their special firefighter’s pager remains close by on their night table. Calls can come at any time. In fact, the night of the big fire, any dreams of a long rest after fighting the raging fire would be just that - dreams - as another fire call came in at 5 AM. A smoke detector at the Raritan Library had gone off. The heating system had a problem causing it to smoke. By the time the fire department arrived, the smoke had died down and only a bad smell remained. The firemen went home for good. As for the house on Anderson Street, the next day it could be seen in ruins, just a pile of rubble surrounded by a sheet of ice. It attracted many onlookers. An investigation by Fire Official Paul Mazar will be done as to the cause of the fire.
Raritan-online and the Raritan residents would like to thank the Raritan Fire Department and all others including police, rescue squad, and other fire departments who helped battle the fire last Thursday. No one was injured and the fire was contained to just the building in which it began. Raritan-online had hoped to list the individuals by name, but new homeland security guidelines don’t look too kindly on publicly listing the full names of firefighters. So thank you Carl, Steve, Bill, Andrew, Danny, Don, Alan, Lou, Paul, Mike, Andy, Chris, Sam and Gabe. Great Job Guys, and Thanks again!
Link to Courier News Article on the fire