Back to News

JULY 1, 2005


9 Woodfield Lane,
Lawrence Township

During the late afternoon of Friday, July 1, 2005, a fierce thunderstorm swept into Mercer County, bringing with it heavy rain and lightning.

During the storm lightning bolts hit three buildings in Lawrence Township: the Lawrence Neighborhood Center on Eggerts Crossing Road in Lawrence Road's first-due district; and a home on Winthrop Road and a large house on Woodfield Lane, both in Lawrenceville Fire Company's fire district.

When it struck the house on Woodfield Lane, the lighting started a fire in the attic. Heavy fire had already burned through the roof when the first apparatus, Lawrence Road's Telesquirt 22, arrived. A second alarm was immediately sounded.

During that two-alarm blaze on Woodfield Lane, additional Station 22 personnel responded with mutual aid companies to a reported smoke condition at the Quaker Bridge Mall that ultimately was traced to an electrical fault in an escalator.

It all started at about 5 p.m. when Lawrence Road and Slackwood fire companies were dispatched to Eldridge Park School at 55 Lawn Park Avenue for a fire alarm activation. At the time, it had not yet started raining.

Firefighters responded and quickly determined the alarm had gone off due to an ongoing fault in the system.

The storm struck a short time later and drenched the area with heavy rain that was accompanied by powerful lightning.

As the rain fell and the lightning flashed overhead, crews from three Lawrence Township fire companies were dispatched to investigate a reported lightning hit to the Lawrence Neighborhood Center at 295 Eggerts Crossing Road.

Telesquirt 22 responded with Rescue Capt. Andrew Fosina in command, Ff. Joseph Dlabik Sr. driving, and a crew that included Ff. Matt Farletta, Ff. Ryan Dlabik and Ff. Charles Commini Jr.

Engine 22 was commanded by Capt. Shaun Dlabik. Ff. Steven Amiott drove and the crew was Ff. Martin Burch, Ff. Steven Hodgdon, and Ff. Joseph Dlabik Jr.

Rescue 22 was commanded by Ff. John Britton and driven by Ff. Chris Longo with Ff. R.J. Laird and Ff. Brian Laue aboard as the crew.

Assistant Chief Chris Pangaldi responded in Car 22.

Telesquirt 22's crew and other firefighters conducted a thorough search of the Lawrence Neighborhood Center, but they could find no damage to the building nor evidence of any fire.

While they were wrapping up operations on Eggerts Crossing Road, the all three Lawrence Township fire companies were alerted to another lightning strike and a possible structure fire at 18 Winthrop Road at about 5:25 p.m.

Engine 22 and Rescue 22 responded along with Lawrenceville and Slackwood crews to Winthrop Road, while Telesquirt 22 stayed on Eggerts Crossing Road to finish up the investigation at the Lawrence Neighborhood Center.

When they reached 18 Winthrop Road, firefighters discovered that lightning had struck and destroyed a seven-foot-tall section of the home's chimney.

Bricks from the smashed chimney had fallen from the roof onto the home's deck, hot tub, air conditioning unit and lawn.

The lightning bolt also traveled down the length of the chimney into the house and caused damage to and around the mantle.

Lawrence Road firefighters helped Lawrenceville crews check the home for fire, but none was found.

It was at about that time that the Mercer County Central Communications Center went offline, knocked temporarily out of service due to some kind of power loss that may or may not have been related to the lightning.

As operations were underway at 18 Winthrop Road, Telesquirt 22 returned to the Lawrence Road firehouse. Because Mercer County Central down, Fosina telephoned Lawrence Township police and asked if there were any other emergencies in town.

Fosina was told by the police dispatcher there were three fire calls awaiting a response: a carbon monoxide alarm; a fire alarm; and a possible house fire at 9 Woodfield Lane. Fosina directed the dispatcher to tone out the assignments.

Fosina and his crew (the same as before with the addition of Ff. Karen Fosina) then immediately responded toward 9 Woodfield Lane.

Telesquirt 22 was already passing Interstate 95 when the alarm for 9 Woodfield Lane was finally transmitted.

Upon receiving the dispatch for another possible structure fire, Engine 22 and Rescue 22 both cleared Winthrop Road and headed toward Woodfield Lane.

While still enroute firefighters were advised that police officers had arrived on scene and were confirming a working fire.

Just moments later, Telesquirt 22's crew reached the scene and were greeted by flames blazing through the roof of the large two-story dwelling. Fosina radioed he had heavy fire showing and immediately requested the second alarm on Box 23-10.

Telesquirt 22 took up a position in front of the building and its crew led off with a 2.5-inch hoseline in an effort to blitz the fire from the exterior. They managed to knock down quite a bit of fire before running out of tank water.

Engine 22 then arrived on location. Engine 22 backed down to Telesquirt 22 and then reverse-laid a large diameter supply line to the nearest hydrant.

Additional apparatus then arrived on scene, including: Rescue 22; Ladder Tower 23, Telesquirt 23 and Rescue 23; Snorkel 21; and Engine 30 from Falls Township, Pa. (which was standing by for the evening at Station 21 because many Slackwood firefighters were out of town for a fundraiser bus trip to Philadelphia for the Phillies vs. Atlanta Braves baseball game)

Responding on the second alarm, meanwhile, were Rescue 32 from Ewing Township's Pennington Road Fire Co. (as the rapid intervention team); Ladder Tower 31 and Engine 31 from Prospect Heights Fire Co. of Ewing Township; Hopewell Borough's Engine 52; Engine 14-2 from Hamilton Township's Enterprise Fire Co.; Engine 44 from Princeton Junction Fire Co. of West Windsor Township; and Ladder Tower 62 from the Princeton Fire Department.

After water supply was established between Engine 22 and Telesquirt 22, crews mounted an aggressive interior attack use two 1.75-inch hoselines and two 2.5-inch hoselines from Telesquirt 22.

Firefighters were making good progress in knocking down the blaze when part of the roof collapsed at one end of the structure, prompting Command 23 to order a temporary evacuation of the fire building.

All crews immediately backed out. After command reassessed the situation and deemed it safe to resume interior operations, crews recommenced their attack.

Firefighters pulled ceilings and knocked down the bulk of the fire. Later the master streams from Snorkel 21 and Telesquirt 22 were briefly used to hit hard-to-reach hot spots along the collapsed roof-line.

The blaze was officially declared under control by Command 23 at 6:43 p.m. No injuries were reported.

At 6:50 p.m., while firefighters were overhauling the blaze on Woodfield Lane, Mercer County Central (which, by then, was back in service) transmitted Box 23-50 for a reported smoke condition at Quaker Bridge Mall at 3320 Brunswick Pike.

Engine 15-2 from Hamilton Township's DeCou Hose Co. and Ladder Tower 17 from Hamilton Township's Nottingham Fire Co. (both of which had relocated to stand by at Lawrence Road's empty firehouse) responded to the mall, along with Engine 14-1 from Hamilton Township's Hamilton Fire Co. (which had relocated to cover Slackwood's firehouse.)

Pangaldi, in Car 22, responded to the mall from Woodfield Lane, while Ff. Evan Kutzin and Ff. Charles Commini Sr. responded to the mall in Utility 22 to serve as pilots for Engine 15-2 and Ladder Tower 17.

Hopewell's Engine 52 and Falls' Engine 30 also responded to the Quaker Bridge Mall after being released from Woodfield Lane by Command 23.

Firefighters quickly determined that the smoke smell was coming from a faulty motor inside one of the mall's escalators. The problem was eventually isolated and all fire apparatus cleared the mall by 7:40 p.m.

Meanwhile, back on Woodfield Lane, units remained on scene until almost 9 p.m. to complete overhaul operations and assist investigators.

(Photos courtesy of Brian McCarthy)

Top of page