On the morning of Wednesday, January 12, 2005, members of Lawrence Road Fire Co. responded first-due to a working house fire that had gained considerable headway before anyone spotted it and sounded the alarm.
According to Lawrence Township police Lt. Charles Edgar, the blaze at 93 Irwin Place was caused by a cigar. The fire began in the den, located in a one-story addition built onto Side D of the two-story dwelling, while the 81-year-old homeowner was taking a shower, he said.
After discovering the blaze, the elderly man tried to fight the flames himself for an unknown period of time, according to authorities. Finally, as flames raced throughout the first floor, he fled from the home.
The man’s 73-year-old wife was not home at the time, authorities said.
Authorities were not aware of the fire until it was reported simultaneously by a retired Lawrence Township police officer and a neighbor from the 700 block of Lawrence Road (Route 206).
The ex-officer, Dave Burns – whose son, Dave Burns II, is both a township police officer and the volunteer fire chief of Lawrenceville Fire Co. – had been driving along Lawrence Road when smoke billowed into view. Turning down Irwin Place, he spotted the blaze and phoned township police to report a working fire.
It was 10:45 a.m. when the Mercer County Central Communications Center transmitted Box 22-10 and dispatched all three Lawrence Township fire companies – Lawrence Road (Station 22), Slackwood (Station 21) and Lawrenceville (Station 23).
An ambulance from Lawrence First Aid Squad was also toned out, while Rescue 32 from Ewing Township’s Pennington Road Fire Co. (Station 32) was dispatched to the scene for rapid intervention team duties.
At the time, Engine 22 and Engine 21-1 were already on the road, having been dispatched at 10:38 a.m. to a fire alarm activation at the MJM Designer Shoes store in the Lawrence Shopping Center.
As the alarm was quickly found to have been set off accidentally, Engine 22 was already on its way back to quarters when the box was transmitted for Irwin Place.
As soon as they headed in the direction of Irwin Place, which is just a few blocks away from the shopping center, firefighters spotted heavy smoke in the air.
Engine 22, commanded by Capt. Michael Byrd, arrived on location about a minute after dispatch and found heavy smoke and fire showing from the dwelling. The blaze was so far advanced that the flames were already venting from several windows on Side D of the one-story addition. Engine 22’s crew led off with a 1.75-inch hoseline stretched to the interior.
Lawrence Road’s normal first-due apparatus, Telesquirt 22, arrived on location about 10:50 a.m. and backed down Irwin Place into a position near the fire building. Telesquirt 22’s aerial was soon raised, as a precaution, to the roof of the addition to serve as an emergency exit route for Station 23 personnel cutting a ventilation hole in the roof over the room of origin.
Additional apparatus to respond were Rescue 22, Engine 21-1, Ladder Tower 23, Telesquirt 23, Rescue 23 and Rescue 32.
Water supply was established by firefighters back-stretching 200 feet of large diameter hose to a hydrant at the corner of Irwin Place and Lawrence Road, as additional 1.75-inch hoselines were put to work.
Lawrence Road Fire Chief Wayne Hannon served as incident commander, with Lawrence Road Deputy Chief John Fleming heading up operations, aided by Assistant Chief Chris Pangaldi.
Although the bulk of the fire was knocked down by 11:05 a.m., Hannon waited until 11:33 a.m. to formally declare the blaze under control.
The elderly homeowner initially declined medical assistance and stood across the street, with a neighbor’s blanket wrapped around his shoulders, and watched firefighters work.
But later he was taken by ambulance to Capital Health System at Fuld hospital in Trenton, where he admitted for treatment of smoke inhalation, Edgar said.
Ultimately, the fire gutted the first floor, while the second floor was heavily damaged by smoke and heat. As the home was left uninhabitable, the elderly residents planned to stay with relatives.
Firefighters cleared the scene by 1 p.m.