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MAY 11, 2006


Glen Roc Shopping Center,
240 Scotch Road, Ewing Township

Lawrence Road Fire Co. volunteers were among the firefighters who responded to help battle a three-alarm inferno at a shopping center in Ewing Township on Thursday, May 11, 2006.

The blaze was at the Glen Roc Shopping Center in the 200 block of Scotch Road.

It was 10:42 a.m. when Mercer County Central Communications Center transmitted Box 32-10 and dispatched the Pennington Road Fire Co. (Station 32), Engine 33 from West Trenton Fire Co., and Ladder Tower 31 from Prospect Heights Fire Co. for a reported structure fire.

Ambulance 139-1, which was in the area at the time, arrived within about a minute and advised Mercer County Central that the northern section of the strip mall was already heavily-involved with a fire that was rapidly spreading.

Riding as part of the ambulance crew was Pennington Road Deputy Chief Eric Rowlands. He immediately ordered Mercer County Central to transmitted the full first alarm.

At 10:44 a.m. all three Ewing Township fire companies were retoned for a working fire. Lawrence Road’s Rescue 22 was also dispatched as the rapid intervention team.

Moments later Rowlands requested a second alarm. Transmitted at 10:48 a.m., the second alarm included Snorkel 21 from Slackwood Fire Co., Telesquirt 23 from Lawrenceville Fire Co., Engine 14-2 from Enterprise Fire Co. and Engine 51 from Pennington Borough Fire Co.

Fanned by the morning’s gusting wind, the fire rapidly took hold of the entire northern section of the strip mall, which consisted of six stores connected to an old two-story dwelling. (That section of the shopping center, including the old house, measured approximately 100 feet by 110 feet in size.)

At 10:51 a.m., the third alarm was transmitted by Mercer County Central at the request of Pennington Road Assistant Keith Layton, who by then had assumed command from Rowlands.

The third alarm included Rescue 52 from Hopewell Borough Fire Co., Engine 14-1 from Hamilton Fire Co., Ladder 30 from Falls Township Fire Co. (of Bucks County, Pa.), and Engine 80 from Yardley-Makefield Fire Co. (also of Bucks County, Pa.).

At 11:01 a.m. Layton requested a fourth alarm, however for some reason (possibly heavy radio traffic) his request was never heard by county dispatchers. As it turned out, there was more than enough manpower and apparatus on scene, so the fourth alarm proved unnecessary.

The blaze sent up a column of thick black smoke that could be seen for miles.

The first apparatus to reach the scene was Telesquirt 32, which arrived at 10:51 a.m. (just nine minutes after being dispatched). Ladder Tower 31 arrived just seconds later, followed by Engine 33-1 arrived at 10:52 a.m.

There was so much fire at that time that an interior attack was impossible.

The radiant heat was tremendous and was threatening to spread the fire to the dozens of other stores in the other adjacent section of the strip mall. Firefighters immediately mounted a defensive operation in an effort to prevent flames from extending to the other stores.

Telesquirt 32 assumed a position at the corner where the burning section of the shopping center met the rest of the stores. Telesquirt 32 raised it ladder and went in service with its master stream to protect the unburned section of the strip mall.

Ladder Tower 31, meanwhile, set up in front of the burning stores and raised its stick in preparation for ladder pipe operations.

Rescue 22, which had signed on radio at 10:47 a.m., arrived on scene at 10:55 a.m. and hooked into the hydrant on Scotch Road in front of the shopping center. Rescue 22 supplied Telesquirt 32 via a supply line that Ewing firefighters had hand-stretched to the hydrant.

Telesquirt 32, in turn, supplied Ladder 31, which were to work with its master stream.

(Rescue 22 was commanded by Capt. Michael Ratcliffe, driven by Paid Driver Bryan Gibbons, and crewed by Assistant Chief Shaun Dlabik, Capt. Edward Kitchen, Ff. Brian Laue, Ff. R.J. Laird, and Ff. Evan Kutzin. Deputy Chief Chris Pangaldi responded in Car 22-1).

Telesquirt 23 arrived at 10:59 a.m. and took a position on Scotch Road alongside Side B of the burning stores. Once a 600-foot supply line had been laid by Engine 14-2 to another hydrant farther north on Scotch Road, Telesquirt 23’s aerial was raised and its master stream put to work.

Numerous 1.75-inch and 2.5-inch hoselines were also stretched from Telesquirt 32, Engine 33-1, Ladder Tower 31 and Telesquirt 23 and put to work by firefighters. One crew of firefighters operated a hoseline from the roof of one of the unburned stores.

Additional water was supplied to Ladder Tower 31 and Engine 33-1 via 800 feet of 4-inch hose laid by Engine 51 to a hydrant on Scotch Road near Upper Ferry Road.

After helping Gibbons hook up to the hydrant, Rescue 22 reported as the RIT to the front of the fire building with their stokes basket full of tools. Within minutes of their arrival, the front facade of the row of stores collapsed in a ball of flames.

Because of the enormity of the fire, the crews from Ladder 30 and Rescue 52 were also designated as additional rapid intervention teams.

While conducting a 360-degree sizeup of the fire building, Kitchen noticed that radiant heat from the blaze had ignited several large brush fires in the woods along the Conrail railroad tracks located behind the shopping center.

Kitchen notified command of the brush fires. A booster line was stretched from telesquirt 23 and Pennington Borough’s Brush 51 was sent to help extinguish the brush fires. Train traffic along the railroad line was temporarily suspended.

At 12:08 p.m., Pennington Road Chief Don Young, who by then had assumed command, officially declared the blaze under control.

Firefighters then remained on location for hours flowing water from maters streams and hoselines to douse smoldering hot spots.

The Signal 22 canteen from Trenton and a rehab units from Trenton Emergency Medical Services responded to the scene to provide firefighters with refreshments. Stella’s, a pizzeria in the shopping center, also donated several dozen pizzas to fed the weary firefighters. An ambulance from Lawrence First Aid Squad also stood by on the scene for EMS support.

Because he had to leave for work, Kitchen was relieved at noon by Ff. Joseph Dlabik Jr. Ratcliffe also had to leave for work and was relieved on scene at 4 p.m. by Capt. Michael Byrd.

Engine 51 and Engine 14-1 were released from the scene about 12:45 p.m. Additional units were recalled starting around 4 p.m.

Rescue 22 remained on scene until 5:45 p.m., and was back in quarters by 5:56 p.m.

Ewing firefighters stayed on location aiding investigators and dousing hotspots until 8:30 p.m. Firefighters returned to the scene the following day to stand by while the damaged section of the shopping center was torn down.

Ultimately, only six stores (including a tailors, a clothing store, a home décor store, two hobby shops and a chiropractor’s office) and the attached house were destroyed. The dozens of other nearby stores in the strip mall were saved. Also, no injuries were reported.

The cause of the blaze remains under investigation by township police and fire officials and the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office.

Officials said they believe the fire started in the ceiling of one of the businesses and, undetected, spread to the other stores before it grew large enough to be spotted.

Apparatus that operated on the fireground included: Telesquirt 32, Engine 32, Ladder Tower 31, Engine 31-1, Squirt 31, Engine 33-1, Ladder Tower 33, Engine 14-1, Engine 14-2, Snorkel 21, Rescue 22, Telesquirt 23, Engine 51, Rescue 52, Bucks County Ladder 30, and Bucks County Engine 80.

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