Back to News

SEPTEMBER 14, 2006


115 Birchwood Knoll,
Lawrence Township

Lawrence Road Fire Co. volunteers extinguished a fire that consumed a backhoe and, for a brief time, threatened to spread to a nearby house on Thursday, September 14, 2006.

It was 2:02 p.m. when Mercer County Central Communication Center transmitted Box 22-10 and dispatched Station 22 to the area of 111 Birchwood Knoll for a reported vehicle fire.

Engine 21 from Slackwood Fire Co. was also dispatched at that time due to the fact that Rescue 22 was already responding to a hazardous materials incident at the Lawrence Township police station at 2211 Lawrence Road.

At 2:03 p.m. Assistant Chief Shaun Dlabik arrived on location to find a Case backhoe heavily involved in fire between the homes at 115 and 111 Birchwood Knoll. The backhoe was less than three feet from the Side B exterior wall of 115 Birchwood Knoll. That home’s natural gas and electrical meters were both nearby.

Dlabik ordered Mercer County Central to upgrade to a full structure fire assignment and to have all responding apparatus “step it up” due to the significant exposure problems. Mercer County Central, in turn, transmitted a Lawrence Township all-call at 2:05 p.m.

Ff. Ryan Dlabik then arrived on scene in his own car and helped the assistant chief and police warn the residents of both 115 and 111 Birchwood Knoll to evacuate their homes because of the fire. The residents, including several small children, had been unaware of the fire. They were relocated to the opposite side of the street as a precaution for their safety.

Upon hearing the assistant chief’s report of a working fire with exposure problems, Rescue 22’s crew was released from the HazMat assignment by the officer of Trenton Fire Department Rescue 1, which had also responded to the police station.

(Ultimately, Rescue 1 personnel determined that the suspicious odor coming from a car parked in the lot in front of the police station was coming from an old carton on spoiled orange juice in the backseat. As such, it posed no safety or environmental threats.)

Rescue 22 responded to Birchwood Knoll at 2:05 p.m. with Capt. Michael Ratcliffe in command, Paid Driver Bryan Gibbons driving, and Capt. Michael Byrd and Ff. R.J. Laird as the crew.

Also responding at 2:05 p.m. in Car 22-1 was Deputy Chief Chris Pangaldi. He arrived on the scene at 2:07 p.m. and assumed command.

Ladder Tower 23 responded at 2:06 p.m., followed by Engine 21 at 2:08 p.m.

Telesquirt 22’s response time was not logged. Telesquirt 22 was commanded by Ff. Joseph Dlabik Jr., driven by Ff. Joseph Dlabik Sr. and crewed by Ff. Theresa Androvett and Ff. Brian Laue.

Rescue 22 arrived at 2:08 p.m., wrapped a hydrant at the corner of Birchwood Knoll and Darrah Lane and laid a LDH supply line up to 115 Birchwood Knoll. Rescue 22’s crew then stretched a pre-connected 1.75-inch hoseline and began attacking the fire involving the backhoe.

Engine 21, meanwhile, arrived at 2:09 p.m. and hooked up to the hydrant to supply Rescue 22’s supply line.

Telesquirt 22 then arrived at and took a position in the front driveway of 111 Birchwood Knoll. A 1.75-inch preconnected hoseline from Telesquirt 22 was stretched and put to work to help extinguish the backhoe fire.

Ladder Tower 23 took a standby position at Darrah Lane and Birchwood Knoll.

The fire was knocked down by 14:14 hrs. The backhoe’s battery cables were cut and made safe.

Radiant heat from the fire melted the vinyl siding on the section of 115 Birchwood Knoll’s Side B exterior wall closest to the backhoe. An area of this vinyl siding was removed by firefighters to visually check for fire extension. A thermal imaging camera was also used to check this area. No fire extension was found.

The interior of 115 Birchwood Knoll was also check with the thermal imager and, again, no fire extension was found.

The fire burned through the backhoe’s fuel line, causing diesel fuel to spill onto the ground and run, with the water from the hoselines, down into the back yards of both 115 and 111 Birchwood Knoll.

Efforts by firefighters to crimp or plug the fuel line were unsuccessful due to the damage caused by the fire. Five-gallon buckets were then used to catch the spilling fuel. Approximately 12 to 15 gallons of fuel were captured in this way.

Firefighters attempted to contain the fuel that had already spilled and run off by using booms and pads from Rescue 22 and by building dirt dikes.

Ladder Tower 23 was recalled at 2:21 p.m. Engine 21 was recalled at 2:28 p.m.

At 2:29 p.m. state DEP was notified of the spill. The backhoe’s operator then arrived on scene and advised that the backhoe’s tank had a 22-gallon capacity but it had not been full because the machine had been operated the previous day.

Telesquirt 22 was recalled at 2:45 p.m.

Trenton’s Rescue 1 was requested to respond (after it cleared the previous call at the police station) to assist with containing the diesel fuel spill.

TFD HazMat personnel arrived on location at 2:50 p.m. and deployed numerous pads and booms to help contain and absorb the diesel fuel, which was found to have spread to a large area of the two homes’ back yards. Due to the extent of the spill, a request was made at 3:07 p.m. for a DEP representative to respond to the scene.

After assisting with the fuel spill, Rescue 1 cleared the scene at 3:21 p.m.

An investigation into the fire’s cause and origin was initiated by Lawrence Township Fire Inspector Rich Soltis.

It was learned from the operator that the backhoe had last been run about 3 p.m. the day before (September 13, 2006). The backhoe was parked there because it was being used as part of an in-ground pool installation project that was underway at 115 Birchwood Knoll.

The fire appeared to have originated in the area of the backhoe’s engine, however the cause remained under investigation. Soltis reported that an electrical problem was possibly to blame.

Joseph Hoyle, the DEP representative, surveyed the scene and advised the backhoe operator that it was his responsibility to cleanup the spilled diesel fuel. Hoyle met with the homeowners of both 115 and 111 Birchwood Knoll to advise them of the cleanup procedures.

Rescue 22 cleared the scene at 3:55 p.m. and was back in quarters by 3:57 p.m.

All photos copyright (c) 2006 by Michael Ratcliffe.

Top of page