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MARCH 19, 2006


6 Timberland Drive,
Hopewell Township

During the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, April 19, 2006, a crew of Lawrence Road Fire Co. volunteers helped battle a raging two-alarm house fire in Hopewell Township. Another crew of Station 22 members, meanwhile, relocated to standby at the Pennington Borough firehouse.

A neighbor who reportedly heard a noise and then saw fire coming from the residence at 6 Timberland Drive notified authorities of the blaze at 12:27 a.m.

Pennington Borough Fire Co. (Station 51) and Hopewell Borough’s Engine 52 were dispatched by Mercer County Central Communications Center at 12:28 a.m.

A Hopewell Township fire inspector arrived just minutes later. He reported the rear of the house was heavily-involved with fire and immediately requested Box 51-60’s full first-alarm.

At 12:31 a.m. Mercer County Central dispatched Rescue 22 from Lawrence Road Fire Co. and additional units from Hopewell Borough Fire Co. to the scene.

The Union Fire Co. of Titusville (Station 53) was also dispatched at 12:34 a.m.

The first-due apparatus, Rescue 51, signed on radio at 12:33 a.m. and arrived on location at 12:34 a.m. Told that someone might be trapped inside the burning dwelling, Rescue 51’s crew mounted an aggressive interior attack and search and rescue effort.

Engine 52 responded at 12:33 a.m., followed by Rescue 22 at 12:34 a.m., Ladder Tower 51 at 12:35 a.m., Tanker 52 and Tanker 53 both at 12:36 a.m., and then Tanker 51 at 12:38 a.m.

Rescue 22 was commanded by Capt. Michael Byrd, driven by Capt. Michael Ratcliffe, and manned by Ff. Brian Laue, Ff. R.J. Laird, Ff. Ryan Dlabik, Ff. Jarred Pierson and Ff. Steven Hodgdon.

Pennington Chief Stew Schwab arrived on scene at 12:38 a.m. and assumed command.

A full second alarm was requested and, at 12:40 a.m., Engine 32 from Ewing Township’s Pennington Road Fire Co., and Engine 33 from Ewing Township’s West Trenton Fire Co. and Ladder Tower 23 from Lawrence Township’s Lawrenceville Fire Co. were all dispatched.

Because of poor water pressure from hydrants in the Timberland Drive area, a tanker task force was also dispatched at 12:40 a.m. as part of the second alarm.

The task force consisted of tankers from Delaware Township’s Sergeantsville Fire Co. (Hunterdon County Station 47); Franklin Township’s Griggstown Fire Co. (Somerset County Station 35); Franklin Township’s Little Rocky Hill Fire Co. (Somerset County Station 41); Montgomery Township’s Montgomery Fire Co. #1 (Somerset County Station 45); and Branchburg Township’s Neshanic Fire Co. (Somerset County Station 48).

Ladder Tower 51 arrived about 12:38 a.m., followed by Tanker 51 at 12:39 a.m., Engine 52 at 12:40 a.m., Tanker 52 at 12:43 a.m. and Tanker 53 at 12:44 a.m.

Engine 51 and Telesquirt 53’s response and arrival times were not logged.

Rescue 22 arrived at 12:49 a.m. and took a position on Timberlane Drive on Side B of the fire building. Rescue 22’s crew was directed by Command 51 to assist with suppression efforts. Members of Rescue 22’s crew helped stretch a 1.75-inch hoseline into the garage on Side D.

Engine 53 and Ladder Tower 23 (which both signed on radio at 12:41 a.m.) arrived on the scene at 12:50 a.m., followed at 12:53 a.m. by Engine 33 (which responded at 12:43 a.m.)

Engine 32’s response and arrival times were not logged.

A live overhead electrical power line that burned through and dropped onto the lawn on Side B of the fire building hampered operations and posed a shock risk to several firefighters.

As a result, Command 51 made several urge calls for a PSE&G utility crew to respond to the scene. Power was eventually turned off to the downed wire.

Despite the aggressive interior attack being mounted by firefighters, heavy fire took hold of the house. Because of the rapidly deteriorating conditions, Command 51 ordered all personnel to evacuate the building. Apparatus air horns sounded the evacuation at 12:58 a.m.

Flames shot from the roof as crews backed out. Firefighters then switched to a defensive operation using multiple hoselines and the elevated master stream from Telesquirt 53.

Rescue 22’s crew manned hoselines along Sides B and C during the exterior attack.

Because public works officials were able to boost water pressure to the area hydrants, all the second alarm tankers were recalled prior to their arrival on scene.

The blaze was officially declared under control at 1:37 a.m., but crews continued to fight pockets of heavy fire in the basement and other parts of the house for more than an hour more.

Rescue 22’s crew helped man hoselines during this period, while Ratcliffe used Rescue 22’s cascade system to refill 18 SCBA bottles used by firefighters during interior operations.

Ultimately, firefighters learned that no one had been home when the blaze broke out.

The house was destroyed by the blaze, with the attic area completely burned away.

After all visible fire had been extinguished, Rescue 22’s crew ran an electrical cord from Rescue 22 to power portable lights at the rear of the house to assist investigators. As a result, Rescue 22 remained on the scene when many other units (Ladder Tower 23, Engine 32, Engine 33, etc.) were recalled around 3:35 a.m.

Finally, at 4:07 a.m., Rescue 22 was released by Command 51. Rescue 22 returned to Lawrence Township and backed into Station 22 at 4:22 a.m.

While Rescue 22’s crew was busy operating at the scene, another crew of Lawrence Road firefighters was standing by with Engine 22 at the Pennington Borough firehouse.

It was 12:48 a.m. when Mercer County Central toned out Station 22 with a request for Engine 22 to relocated to Station 51 to cover the Pennington Borough area.

Engine 22 responded at 12:49 a.m. with Ff. Matthew Farletta in command, Ff. Charles Commini Sr. driving, and a crew that included Ff. Ed Budzinski, Ff. Charles Commini Jr., and Ff. Evan Kutzin. Engine 22 arrived at Station 51 by 1:05 a.m.

Standing by along with Engine 22 at Station 51 were Hopewell Borough’s Rescue 52, Ladder Tower 31 from Ewing Township’s Prospect Heights Fire Co., and Tanker 71 from Upper Makefield Fire Co. of Upper Makefield Township, Bucks County, Pa.

During the standby, no emergency assignments were received. Engine 22 and the other cover companies remained at the Pennington Borough firehouse until being released at 4:04 a.m.

Engine 22 was back in quarters at Station 22 by 4:15 a.m.

All photos copyright (c) 2006 by Michael Ratcliffe.

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