January 1, 2000
The first significant incident to which the volunteers of Lawrence Road Fire Co. responded in the new year was a motor vehicle accident with entrapment on the rainy evening of Tuesday, January 4, 2000. The two-vehicle collision occurred just before 6:15 p.m. at the corner of Brunswick Pike and Darrah Lane.
According to police reports, Tracy Truch, 35, of Myrtle Avenue, Lawrence, was crossing Brunswick Pike toward westbound Darrah Lane after using the jughandle on the northbound side of Brunswick Pike when her Ford Escort was struck on its passenger side by a Jeep Cherokee traveling south on Brunswick Pike. The Cherokee’s driver, Michael Naklicki, 25, of East Brunswick drove through a red light, police reported.
The force of the impact crumpled the Escort’s passenger side inward and pushed the car up against the curb in front of the Triangle Creative Center art store. The Cherokee, meanwhile, came to rest facing north in the middle of the southbound side of Brunswick Pike. Truch and her passenger, her 13-year-old son, Brian Greer, were trapped in the wreckage of the Escort.
At 6:16 p.m., Lawrence Control dispatched Slackwood Fire Co., along with the rescue units from Lawrence Road Fire Co. and Lawrence First Aid Squad. Rescue 22 signed on radio at 6:17 p.m. with a crew consisting of Rescue Capt. Chris Longo, Capt. Patrick Kent, Capt. Gary Wasko, Ff. Charles Commini, Ff. Edward Kitchen, Ff. Tim Kasony Jr., Ff. Chris Pangaldi, and Ff. Larry Forker. Meanwhile, Engine 21-1 signed on radio at 6:18 p.m., followed at 6:22 p.m. by Engine 21.
At 6:17 p.m. Lawrence First Aid Squad Chief Michael Peterson (who is also a Lawrence Road firefighter) arrived on scene, along with other EMS personnel. At that time, the 13-year-old boy was unconscious and unresponsive. Peterson radioed Rescue 22’s crew and advised them that when they arrived they were to go in service with their Holmatro tools to extricate the injured boy as quickly as possible. Peterson also advised Engine 21-1’s crew that they would need to stretch a precautionary 1.75-inch handline as soon as they arrived.
Rescue 22 reached the scene at 6:21 p.m., followed one minute later by Engine 21-1. Rescue 129 arrived at 6:23 p.m., and Engine 21 arrived at 6:24 p.m. Rescue 22’s crew immediately stabilized the Escort, then used their O-Cutter to cut the passenger side B post. The Combination tool was then used to pop open the passenger side door. Access was made to the injured boy by 6:26 p.m., and he was removed from the vehicle by 6:31 p.m. Meanwhile, Slackwood firefighters assisted in the rapid removal of the boy’s injured mother from the other side of the Escort.
Truch was taken by ambulance to the Capital Health System at Fuld hospital in Trenton, where she was admitted in critical condition. Her son was also taken to the Fuld hospital in critical condition, but then transferred to Cooper Hospital-University Medical Center in Camden. (Both mother and child later recovered from their injuries.) Naklicki, who suffered only minor injuries, was later charged with failure to observe a traffic signal. Rescue 22 remained on scene until 7:13 p.m., using its telescopic light tower to assist police investigators. Rescue 22 was back in quarters by 7:20 p.m.
January 8, 2000
Just a few minutes before 10:20 a.m. on Saturday, January 8, 2000, the Geo Prism driven by Susan Pak, a resident of Millerick Avenue, Lawrence, veered off the road while heading south on Route 206. The car slammed head-on into a utility pole next to the main entrance of Rider University. The force of the impact crushed the car’s engine compartment and crumpled the dashboard, pinning Pak in her seat. It also split the utility pole, sending a large crack from the base of the pole almost all the way to the top.
At 10:20 a.m., Lawrence Control dispatched the Lawrenceville and Lawrence Road fire companies and Lawrence First Aid Squad to the accident. Rescue 22, commanded by Rescue Capt. Chris Longo and driven by Ff. James Yates, responded at 10:23 a.m. with a crew that included Capt. Gary Wasko, Ff. Edward Kitchen, Ff. Tim Kasony Jr., Ff. Michael Byrd and Ff. Michael Ratcliffe. At 10:24 a.m., Chief John Fleming arrived on location and confirmed that there was one person trapped.
Rescue 22 arrived just one minute later at 10:25 a.m. and its crew immediately went in service with their Holmatro tools. Deputy Chief Richard Farletta arrived a short time later to help coordinate operations. Engine 23, which signed on radio at 10:25 a.m., arrived at 10:27 a.m. Its crew stretched a booster line, then secured the wrecked car’s battery cable. Utility 23 arrived at 10:29 a.m. with additional manpower.
Rescue 22’s crew stabilized Pak’s car, and then removed the driver side door. EMS personnel then requested that the dashboard be rolled so Pak’s feet could be untangled. A ram was utilized to move the dashboard forward off the victim. However, because of her large size and position in the vehicle, Pak still could not be moved, and it became necessary to cut away part of the car’s floorboard and to reposition the ram. Ff./EMT Andrew Fosina, who arrived on the scene in his personal vehicle, climbed into the wrecked car from the passenger side to assist with patient care during the extrication.
The rescue was still ongoing when Slackwood Ff. Richard Johnson, who works for PSE&G, pointed out that the live electrical wires atop the damaged utility pole were in danger of falling. At that time, because of the hazard posed by the overhead wires, EMS personnel decided to pull Pak from the car as carefully, but as quickly, as possible. Pak, who suffered multiple fractures in her legs, was freed from the vehicle by 10:51 a.m. She was taken to the Capital Health System at Fuld hospital, where a trauma alert was called and she was admitted in stable condition. After the victim was removed, apparatus was repositioned away from the damaged pole and live electrical wires. Rescue 22 returned to quarters by 10:58 a.m.
January 17, 2000
When their pagers activated at 10:24 a.m. on Monday, January 17, 2000, members of the Slackwood and Lawrence Road fire companies were dispatched to a roof fire at 76 Hopatcong Drive. Slackwood firefighters arrived on scene at 10:31 a.m. and found that there was a small blaze actually burning along the outside of the rear wall of the single-family dwelling. Apparently, residents had left embers from a wood-burning stove in a plastic container placed next to the rear wall. The embers, fanned by the morning’s stiff breeze, smoldered and ignited into a fire that spread to the wall. Slackwood firefighters knocked down the flames with a 1.75-inch handline, then started opening the interior of the wall to check for extension. Engine 22, which signed on radio at 10:28 a.m., arrived at 10:32 a.m. and took up a position at a nearby hydrant. Engine 22’s crew then stretched a backup 1.75-inch handline off one of Slackwood’s engines, but the line was never charged and was quickly repacked. Engine 22’s crew then assisted in throwing salvage tarps in the home where the wall was being opened up. Only very minor extension was found, and the blaze was declared under control at 10:38 a.m. by Slackwood Chief Ken Johnson. While firefighters were still on Hopatcong Drive, Lawrence Control dispatched Slackwood and Lawrence Road fire companies to a smoke condition in the area of 2495 Brunswick Pike. Engine 22 was released from Hopatcong Drive to take in the run, and Rescue 22 responded from quarters. After investigating the area, firefighters concluded that the smoke seen by the 911 caller had originated from a diesel generator being started behind a business at 2303 Brunswick Pike. The run was logged as a good intent call, and all Lawrence Road units were back in quarters by 11:10 a.m.
January 20, 2000
At 7:40 a.m. during a light snow storm on Thursday, January 20, 2000, Station 22 was dispatched to assist Station 23 at the scene of a possible electrical fire at 215 Sonnet Place in the Eagle’s Chase development. Engine 22-1, driven by Ff. Michael Ratcliffe with a crew consisting of Ff. Michael Byrd, Ff. Joseph Dlabik Jr. and Ff. Shaun Dlabik, responded but was recalled prior to arrival. While en route back to quarters on Princeton Pike, Engine 22-1 was contacted by Mercer County Central Communications Center and redirected to the scene of a working fire on Box 31-02 at 200 Kelsey Avenue in Ewing. Engine 22-1 responded and arrived on scene at 7:58 a.m., just behind Trenton Engine 5. All three Ewing fire companies were already on location. (An engine from Slackwood was later called to assist with ventilation.) Engine 22-1 backed in and stood by to lay a supply line. The crew from the engine meanwhile reported to Chief 31 at the command post and were deployed into the fire building, which was a large single-story warehouse. Firefighters found that the building’s automatic sprinkler system had contained the flames to an office area. Engine 22-1’s crew assisted in shutting off the sprinkler system and ventilating the structure. Engine 22-1’s crew then assisted Assistant Chief 31 with his investigation, which found that an electrical fault had started the blaze. Engine 22-1 was released from the scene at 8:45 a.m. At 8:49 a.m., while Engine 22-1 was on North Olden Avenue heading back to Lawrence, Station 21 and Station 22 were dispatched to an activated fire alarm at the Colonial Bowling Alley on Brunswick Pike. Engine 22-1 immediately responded and was the first apparatus to arrive at 8:53 a.m. The alarm was found to have been triggered by a broken water pipe.
January 23, 2000
At 1:39 a.m. on Sunday, January 23, 2000, Mercer County Central Communications Center transmitted Box 52-40 and dispatched Hopewell firefighters to a possible chimney fire at 98 Marshalls Corner-Woodsville Road in Hopewell Township. At 1:44 a.m. a Hopewell Township police officer arrived on scene and confirmed there was a working fire inside the single-story dwelling. The incident was upgraded at that time to a first alarm and the Pennington and Union fire companies were dispatched to assist.
At 1:48 a.m., Hopewell Chief Joseph Toth II (a former Lawrence Road volunteer) arrived and found heavy smoke pouring from the house and flames visible through a sliding glass door leading to the living room. Engine 52, which signed on radio at 1:45 a.m., arrived at 1:52 a.m., followed two minutes later by Tanker 52. Rescue 52 and Engine 51 both reached the scene at 1:59 a.m., and Tower Ladder 51 and Tanker 51 both arrived two minutes after that. Telesquirt 53 arrived at 2:12 a.m., and Tanker 53 arrived at 2:15 a.m.
At 1:57 a.m., Lawrence Road’s Rescue 22 was dispatched for cascade duties. While Rescue 22 was en route, Hopewell firefighters stretched several handlines into the building, and Pennington’s ladder tower was raised to vent the roof. A portable pond was set up on Marshalls Corner-Woodsville Road at the mouth of the home’s long driveway and water was fed to Engine 52 through a supply line. A tanker shuttle was established and Engine 32-1 from the Pennington Road Fire Co. was dispatched to Hiohela Lake to refill the tankers. The fire was declared under control at 2:18 a.m.
Rescue 22 arrived on location at 2:20 a.m. with a crew that included Assistant Chief Wayne Hannon and Firefighters Charles Commini, Walter Hlewicki, Michael Byrd and Michael Ratcliffe. Rescue 22 was positioned near the portable pond and its light tower raised to help illuminate the scene. Commini then prepared Rescue 22’s cascade system. Meanwhile, Hannon and the rest of the crew proceeded to the front of the fire building and received orders from Toth to set up portable lights inside. After completing that task, they carried several empty SCBA bottles back to Commini. Commini used Rescue 22’s cascade system to fill approximately 15 air bottles. Hannon, Hlewicki, Byrd and Ratcliffe then reported back to the fire building, where they helped overhaul by pulling down the ceiling in the living room and opening the wall around a fireplace.
Investigators determined that the blaze was caused, in part, by the defective construction of the fireplace’s chimney. Heat from the metal chimney apparently radiated to the nearby wall and eventually ignited the wood there. Fortunately, residents was able to escape after waking to find the house rapidly filling with smoke. The fire heavily damaged the living room and bedroom areas, and caused extensive smoke damage to the rest of the home. There were no injuries reported. A light snow fell as firefighters performed the overhaul work. Rescue 22 was released from the scene at 4:14 a.m. and was back at Station 22 by 4:40 a.m.
February 1, 2000
An unusual accident, in which a vehicle overturned and landed in a small creek along Route 1, occurred on the evening of Tuesday, February 1, 2000. The accident began around 6 p.m. when Miguel A. Archila, 20, of Drewes Court, Lawrence, was trying to change lanes on Route 1, according to police. Archila was driving in the right southbound lane of Route 1 between Interstate 95 and Franklin Corner Road when he switched into the left lane, police said. Archila then abruptly decided to switch back into the right lane, but his car collided with a car driven by John Paine, 65, of New Hope, Pa., police said.
Following that collision, Archila’s car hit the rear of a car driven by Nicole Hillman, 27, of Franklin Street, Trenton, according to police. Archila’s car continued south along Route 1 for about 1,200 feet, then slammed into the road’s concrete divider. The car bounced off the divider, crossed both left and right lanes, and hit a patch of ice along the shoulder. The ice served as a ramp and sent Archila’s car airborne. The vehicle flew as much as 120 feet, overturned and landed on its roof on the ice-covered surface of a branch of the Shipetaukin Creek located next to the Acura car dealership, just north of Franklin Corner Road. Archila was trapped in the flipped vehicle.
At 6:02 p.m. Lawrence Control dispatched Station 23, Squad 129 and Rescue 129 for an overturned vehicle in the water with entrapment. At 6:07 p.m. Rescue 22 was special-called to assist. An ambulance from West Windsor Emergency Services, which happened to be in the area at the time, also responded. A request was also made for the water rescue task force from the Trenton Fire Department to respond. (The victim was ultimately freed without the aid of city firefighters, where were recalled shortly after they arrived.) Rescue 22 arrived on location at 6:16 p.m. Rescue 22’s light tower was quickly raised to illuminate the scene and its stokes basket was brought over to assist in the removal of the victim from the creek.
Lawrenceville firefighters used high-lift jacks to raise the vehicle enough so that Archila, who amazingly was not seriously hurt, could crawl out on his own. However, because the extent of Archila’s injuries was unknown at that point, rescuers placed a collar around his neck and secured him to a backboard. He was then placed in Rescue 22’s stokes basket. Chief John Fleming, Assistant Chief Wayne Hannon, Ff. Charles Commini, Ff. Michael Byrd and Ff. Edward Kitchen then helped Lawrenceville firefighters haul the stokes basket up the snow-covered bank of creek.
Archila was taken by ambulance to the Capital Health System at Fuld hospital, where he was found to have only a cut to his left shin and a bruised sternum. Rescue 22 was released from the scene at 6:32 p.m. Then, at 6:35 p.m., Slackwood and Lawrence Road fire companies were dispatched to a possible structure fire at 5 Van Buren Place. Rescue 22 immediately responded from the street and arrived just behind Engine 21-1 to find that a small fire in a toaster oven had already been extinguished. Rescue 22 was held on scene for a brief period, and then returned to quarters by 6:47 p.m.
February 2, 2000
A large building that doubled as a machine shop and a hay storage facility for a lucrative horse farm was destroyed by fire in Hopewell Township on the evening of Wednesday, February 2, 2000. The fire at the Southwind Farm at 29 Burd Road was reported at 5:57 p.m. At that time, the Pennington, Hopewell, and Union (Titusville) fire companies were all dispatched on Box 51-06. (Pennington responded with Engine 51, Tower Ladder 51, Rescue 51, and Tanker 51; Hopewell responded with Engine 52, Rescue 52 and Tanker 52; and Union responded with Engine 53-1, Telesquirt 53 and Tanker 53.)
At 5:59 p.m., Pennington Chief Doug Pinelli spotted flames in the air while responding along Pennington-Harbourton Road. He immediately radioed Mercer County Central and requested the second alarm. Dispatched at 6 p.m., the second alarm included: Rescue 22 from Lawrence Road Fire Co., Ladder Tower 23 from Lawrenceville Fire Co., Engine 33-1 from West Trenton Fire Co., Rescue 32 from Pennington Road Fire Co., and Tanker 71 from Upper Makefield Fire Co. of Bucks County, Pa. Rescue 22 responded at 6:03 p.m. with a crew that included Assistant Chief Wayne Hannon, Rescue Capt. Chris Longo, and Firefighters Charles Commini, Michael Byrd, Ed Budzinski, Joseph Dlabik Sr. and Shaun Dlabik.
Pennington firefighters reached the scene to find flames burning through part of the roof of the storage building, which measured approximately 80-feet by 30-feet. First-alarm firefighters had to lay more than 3,000 feet of large diameter supply hose up the farm’s narrow driveway to the fire building. Engines were positioned in the middle of the hose lay and portable ponds were erected at the foot of the driveway. Tankers were used to shuttle water from a hydrant on Bromel Place in Pennington.
Rescue 22 arrived on the scene at 6:20 p.m. While Firefighters Joseph Dlabik Sr. and Shaun Dlabik remained with Rescue 22, which was temporarily parked out of the way on Burd Road, the remaining members of the crew walked up the long driveway and reported to Chief 51 at the rear of the fire building. At 6:25 p.m. the third alarm was transmitted for additional tankers. Responding on that alarm were Tanker 47-71 from Sergeantsville Fire Co. of Hunterdon County; and tankers from Griggstown (Station 35), Little Rocky Hill (Station 41), Montgomery No. 1 (Station 45), and Neshanic (Station 48) fire companies from Somerset County.
Firefighters initially mounted an aggressive interior attack. But then Pennington Assistant Chief Dave Pinelli, who was in Ladder Tower 51’s bucket, reported that the roof of the fire building appeared to be buckling. At that time, Chief Doug Pinelli ordered all firefighters out of the building and the evacuation tones were sounded. A section of the roof came crashing down a few minutes later. Elevated master streams were then placed in service from Ladder Tower 51 and Telesquirt 53, along with several handlines on the ground. Rescue 22’s crew helped man a 2.5-inch handline at the rear of the fire building, where firefighters worked to protect an underground fuel storage tank located a few feet from the structure.
After the bulk of the fire was knocked down, interior operations resumed and Rescue 22’s crew helped man a 1.75-inch handline. At 7:25 p.m. the fire was finally declared under control. The Pennington First Aid Squad and Hopewell Emergency Medical Unit stood by on scene and provided firefighters with hot coffee and chicken soup. Ladies auxiliary members and the Signal 22 canteen assisted. There were no injuries reported, despite the frigid weather and icy conditions. Rescue 22 was later repositioned on Woosamonsa Road near a small access lane leading to the rear of the Southwind Farm. Rescue 22 was unable to proceed up the access lane because it was completely covered with ice. But the apparatus was moved close enough so that empty SCBA bottles could be ferried from the fire building and filled from Rescue 22’s cascade.
(During the fire, Station 51 was covered by Engine 0 from Yardley, Pa., Tanker 19 from Groveville Fire Co., and Ladder Tower 62 from Princeton Borough; Station 52 was covered by Engine 46-102 from Montgomery Fire Co. #2; and Station 53 was covered by an engine from the Lambertville Fire Department of Hunterdon County.) An investigation by Hopewell Township police, the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office and the Mercer County Fire Marshal’s Office determined that the fire was accidental in nature and caused by a wood-burning stove. Rescue 22 was released from the scene at 8:45 p.m. and back in quarters by 9:11 p.m.
February 18, 2000
The morning and afternoon of Friday, February 18, 2000, proved to be very busy for Station 22 personnel. At 10:50 a.m., Lawrence Control received a report of a possible kitchen fire at 53 Stonicker Drive and in turn dispatched volunteers from the Slackwood and Lawrence Road fire companies. At that time, there was about two inches of fresh snow on the ground and more snow was falling. (Technically, Station 22 should not have been dispatched because Lawrenceville Fire Co. is second-due to that part of Slackwood’s district. The Mercer County Central Communications Center quickly remedied the error by dispatching Station 23.)
Engine 22 responded at 10:54 a.m. with a crew that included Driver Rob Santello, Capt. Martin Burch and Firefighters Michael Ratcliffe, Joseph Dlabik Jr. and Shaun Dlabik. At 10:56 a.m. Slackwood Deputy Chief Mark Lenarski arrived on location and reported that he had a fire contained to the inside of a clothes dryer located in a utility room just off the kitchen. (The residents of the house were not home at the time but had left their front door unlocked so a plumbing contractor could stop by to do some work. It was the contractor who had discovered the fire and called 911.)
Engine 22 arrived on location at 10:59 a.m., followed one minute later by Engine 21-1. Ladder Tower 23 reached the scene at 11:04 a.m. Engine 22’s crew entered the house and used a 2.5-gallon water extinguisher to put out the fire in the clothes dryer. Engine 21-1’s crew then assisted in removing the dryer from the residence. Engine 22 was released from Stonicker Drive at 11:24 a.m. and was back in quarters by 11:31 a.m.
Later, while Station 22 members were gathered around the table in the firehouse break room finishing their lunch, they heard over the scanner Lawrence police being sent to an accident involving a jackknifed tractor-trailer. Apparently, the tractor-trailer had been going north on Route 1 when its driver lost control a short distance north of Whitehead Road. When the rig jackknifed, the driver’s door flew open and the driver, who was not wearing his seatbelt, was thrown out of the cab and over the Route 1 guardrail. The man then fell more than 40 feet into the water of the Delaware & Raritan Canal located below the elevated section of highway.
The accident was in Slackwood’s district but Lawrence Control initially dispatched Squad 129, Rescue 129 and Station 23. Lawrenceville Fire Co. was immediately recalled and Slackwood firefighters dispatched. At 12:55 p.m., Rescue 22 was dispatched, as per the township’s rescue protocol. Rescue 22 responded with Driver Robert Santello, Capt. Martin Burch and Ff. Michael Ratcliffe. Chief John Fleming also responded. The Trenton Fire Department’s marine rescue task force (consisting of Rescue 1, Ladder 1, Engine 1, Engine 3 and Battalion Chief Richard Laird) was also dispatched.
(At 12:56 p.m., Lawrence Road Fire Co. was also dispatched to assist Station 23 at a possible heater fire at 70 Lawrenceville-Pennington Road. Engine 22 responded but was recalled after Lawrenceville Chief Bob Brackett arrived and found there was no fire. Engine 22 was back in quarters by 1:03 p.m.)
Engine 21-1 went directly to the scene of the accident on Route 1. Rescue 22 and Rescue 129, along with the Trenton apparatus, meanwhile responded to the Delaware & Raritan Canal off of Whitehead Road in the area of the Ewing Lawrence Sewerage Authority (ELSA) facility. Rescue 1, Rescue 22 and Rescue 129 all proceeded up the canal towpath to the part of the canal where the tractor-trailer’s driver was believed to have fallen. While Trenton firefighters donned their diving suits, Lawrence Road volunteers brought up the 14-foot roof ladder and the stokes basket off Rescue 22. The ladder was placed into the water to provide footing for the divers as they entered the canal. Meanwhile, other Trenton firefighters launched one of their boats a short distance away.
As divers and the boat crew searched the water in the area below the jackknifed tractor-trailer, Rescue 22’s crew helped search the canal bank to both the north and south. By that time, the snow had turned into a light rain. A pike pole and the thermal imaging camera off Rescue 22 were provided to the Trenton firefighters in the boat to aid their search. Finally, at about 1:49 p.m., Trenton Ff. Ron Ettinger discovered the man’s submerged body.
The body was pulled to the side of the canal, hauled up the bank and placed on Rescue 22’s stokes basket. Burch, Ratcliffe and Fleming helped carry the man’s body to a waiting Lawrence Township ambulance. The man, Nelson E. Cevallos, 37, of Harrison, N.J., was pronounced dead shortly after arrival at Capital Health System at Fuld hospital in Trenton. Rescue 22 cleared the scene at 2:10 p.m. and was back in quarters by 2:16 p.m.
April 6, 2000
On the afternoon of Thursday, April 6, 2000, Lawrence Road Fire Co. Chief John Fleming was attending his son’s little league baseball game at Central Park on Eggerts Crossing Road when he spotted a tall column of smoke rising up from the woods behind the neighboring National Guard 112th Field Artillery Armory. At 5:27 p.m., Fleming notified Mercer County Central Communications Center via radio to dispatch Station 22 and Brush 23 to the blaze. Fleming arrived on location seconds later to find a large area of brush ablaze deep in the woods. The area was estimated to be at least 100 feet by 100 feet. Engine 22-1 signed on radio at 5:32 p.m. with a crew including Assistant Chief Wayne Hannon, Ff. Charles Commini, Ff. Ed Budzinski and Ff. Larry Forker. Brush 23 also responded at 5:32 p.m. Engine 22-1 and Deputy Chief Richard Farletta both arrived on location at 5:34 p.m., followed two minutes later by Brush 23. Utility 22, manned by Ff. Michael Byrd and Ff. Edward Kitchen, arrived at 5:37 p.m. To reach the deep-seated flames, Engine 22-1’s crew had to connect both of the engine’s booster lines together. Indian tanks off Brush 23 were also utilized. At 6:05 p.m., Fleming reported to Mercer County Central that crews had managed to contain the blaze and were making good progress extinguishing it. Rescue Lt. Andrew Fosina, Ff. Walter Hlewicki, Ff. Karen Palise, and Ff. Chris Pangaldi responded with Rescue 22 at 6:06 p.m. for manpower relief purposes. At 6:38 p.m. Fleming reported that the fire was finally out and that all units could take up and return.
April 27, 2000
Two serious motor vehicle accidents and a working fire, all occurring within a five-hour period, kept volunteers from Lawrence Road Fire Co. busy on the night of Thursday, April 27, 2000.
It all began about 4:49 p.m. when a four-door Lexus exiting Quaker Bridge Mall was broadsided by a pickup truck going east on Quakerbridge Road. The driver of the pickup, Lilia Diaz, 54, of Jackson, allegedly went through a red light and struck the driver’s side of the car operated by Linda Goldensohn, 51, of Princeton Township, according to police reports. Tracy Wade, 22, also of Princeton Township, was riding as a passenger in Goldensohn’s Lexus.
Because the crash occurred on the Lawrence-West Windsor border, police in both townships were notified and ambulances were dispatched from both Lawrence First Aid Squad and West Windsor Emergency Services. At 4:54 p.m. Lawrence Control dispatched Lawrenceville Fire Co. and Rescue 22. West Windsor police, meanwhile, dispatched Princeton Junction Fire Co. Rescue 22 signed on radio at 4:56 p.m. with a crew including Capt. Gary Wasko and Firefighters Charles Commini, Walter Hlewicki, Michael Ratcliffe and Shaun Dlabik. Engine 24 (from Lawrenceville’s sub-station on Lawrence Square Boulevard) also signed on radio at 4:56 p.m. and arrived three minutes later to find Goldensohn trapped in her seat, with the front of Diaz’s pickup truck resting against her door. Diaz and Wade were not trapped and were easily removed from their seats.
Chief John Fleming, who responded in his chief’s vehicle, arrived at 5 p.m. At 5:03 p.m. Rescue 22 reached the scene and the crew immediately went in service. Engine 44 arrived on scene at 5:04 p.m., followed a minute later by Engine 23. While Commini and Dlabik stabilized the Lexus, Ratcliffe stretched the Holmatro Combination tool to the driver’s side of the car and Hlewicki took the Holmatro O-Cutter to the passenger’s side. Under the direction of Fleming and Wasko, the men used the tools to cut the A, B and C posts on the Lexus. Firefighters then lifted the roof off the vehicle.
Once the roof was removed, West Windsor Ff./EMT Steve Schnaudt and paramedics were able to climb into the wrecked vehicle to better treat the injured woman. Lawrenceville and Princeton Junction firefighters then pushed the pickup truck away from the Lexus, and Rescue 22’s crew moved in with their Holmatro tools to pop open the crushed driver’s door. But because the door was so badly damaged, it became necessary to first cut off the rear door on that side of the vehicle. Once the rear door was removed firefighters were able to pry open the driver’s door enough to allow EMS personnel to slide in a backboard and free Goldensohn. The extrication was officially completed at 5:25 p.m. Goldensohn, Wade and Diaz were all transported to the Capital Health System at Fuld in Trenton. Both Goldensohn and Diaz were admitted to the hospital in fair condition, while Wade was treated and released.
Rescue 22 was released from the accident scene at 5:31 p.m. At 5:43 p.m., as they were proceeding up Texas Avenue on their way back to the firehouse, Rescue 22’s crew spotted thick black smoke and flames at the rear of the Acme supermarket at the Lawrence Shopping Center. Commini, who was driving, turned Rescue 22 around and headed toward the shopping center. Wasko, meanwhile, radioed Mercer County Central Communications Center and advised them of the fire and ordered them to dispatch Slackwood Fire Co.
Rescue 22 arrived seconds later to find dozens of green plastic shopping carts ablaze. The carts, being stored against the rear wall of the Acme, were burning fiercely and shot flames against the wall and over the roof. As Wasko and Dlabik tried to move unburned carts away from the flames, Commini engaged the pump on Rescue 22 and Ratcliffe and Hlewicki moved in to attack the fire with the 1.75-inch trash line off the front pumper of the apparatus.
Engine 21-1, which signed on radio seconds after being dispatched, reached the scene at 5:47 p.m. and the Slackwood firefighters stretched their own 1.75-inch handline to assist with the attack. Engine 21 arrived on location at 5:50 p.m. with additional manpower. Firefighters, who wore their SCBAs because of the toxic smoke being thrown off by the burning plastic, brought the fire under control in less than 10 minutes. Dozens of shopping carts were destroyed and reduced to piles of melted plastic by the blaze, which later was determined to have been of incendiary origin. Acme officials later estimated the total damage at $9,600. Rescue 22 was released from the scene at 6:05 p.m. and was back in quarters by 6:14 p.m.
Later that night, Hamilton police spotted a Toyota Camry that had been stolen and attempted to stop the vehicle. The car, driven by a 16-year-old boy, with a 14-year-old male passenger, refused to stop and led police on a wild chase. As the stolen auto fled down Whitehead Road into Lawrence Township, the driver lost control and the vehicle fishtailed. The passenger’s side of the car struck a utility police near the Ewing-Lawrence Sewerage Authority (ELSA) facility. Lawrence First Aid Squad was immediately dispatched to the crash. At 9:32 p.m. Slackwood Fire Co. was also dispatched to the accident for wash-down purposes. Slackwood Chief Ken Johnson arrived on scene at 9:33 p.m., followed one minute later by Engine 21-1, to find that the passenger was trapped in the wreckage.
At 9:36 p.m., Mercer County Central dispatched both Rescue 22 and Rescue 129. Rescue 22 signed on radio at 9:37 p.m. with a crew that included Capt. Patrick Kent, and Firefighters Jeff Sawasky, Edward Kitchen, Joseph Dlabik Jr., Michael Ratcliffe, Larry Forker, and Karen Palise. Rescue 22 arrived on location at 9:41 p.m., closely followed by Rescue 129. While Rescue 22’s crew went in service with their Holmatro tools, the crew off Rescue 129 stretched their Hurst tools. Meanwhile, Slackwood firefighters stood by with a charged handline. Both rescue crews worked together and cut off the passenger’s side door. Next, they removed the windshield, cut the A and B posts, and folded back the roof.
Once the roof was out of the way, EMS personnel were able to free the 14-year-old passenger and place him on a backboard about 9:58 p.m. However, because the boy had a serious leg fracture, EMS personnel had to place a special air splint on the injured leg before moving him. As a result, it was not until about 10:08 p.m. that the boy was finally on his way to Capital Health System at Fuld. The 16-year-old driver, who was not seriously hurt and was easily removed from the wreckage, was also taken to the Fuld hospital for treatment. Rescue 22 was released from the scene at 10:10 p.m. and was back at Station 22 by 10:15 p.m., ending an extremely busy evening for Lawrence Road firefighters.
May 5, 2000
Lawrence Road firefighters helped battle a large brush fire in Ewing Township on the very hot afternoon of Friday, May 5, 2000. The blaze, reported to Ewing police at 2:50 p.m., was believed to have been started by sparks thrown off by a freight train as it passed through the area. The sparks ignited dried brush and shrubs growing along the railroad tracks in several places near Railroad Avenue, Scotch Road and behind the Ewing municipal building off Upper Ferry Road. Firefighters from the West Trenton Fire Co. were the first to be dispatched. As the extent of the fire became apparent, additional help was quickly called in from Ewing’s other two fire companies. Firefighters from Trenton-Mercer Airport were also mobilized to attack the fire near where it approached airport property.
Meanwhile, at 3:03 p.m., Lawrence Control dispatched Lawrence Road volunteers to an odor of natural gas at 1501 Lawrence Road. Rescue 22 and Engine 22-1 both responded. At 3:13 p.m., Mercer County Central Communications Center radioed and asked if Engine 22-1 could be released from 1501 Lawrence Road to cover Pennington Road’s firehouse. Engine 22-1 was promptly released from the scene of the gas odor and responded into Ewing. (Rescue 22 remained at 1501 Lawrence Road and ultimately determined that the odor was unfounded.)
Engine 22-1 arrived at Station 32 at 3:20 p.m. At 3:30 p.m., Engine 22-1 was special-called to assist with the brush fire. Engine 22-1 was ordered to respond down Carlton Avenue to Scotch Road to attack the fire along the railroad tracks at the rear of Ewing Cemetery. Engine 22-1 drove through the cemetery and across an open field at the rear to find a large area of brush burning along the fence separating the cemetery from the railroad. At that time, no other apparatus was on scene.
With Ff. Michael Ratcliffe pumping, Ff. Michael Byrd and Ff. Joseph Dlabik Jr. went in service with both of Engine 22-1’s booster lines. Meanwhile, Capt. Gary Wasko radioed in a request for assistance. With the PTO pump engaged, Engine 22-1 was able to drive along the fence line. At one point, as Engine 22-1 took up a position next to a large area of fire, the wind shifted and a ball of flames shot toward the apparatus. Wasko immediately ordered Engine 22-1’s deck gun placed in service and all the water left in the tank (about 250 gallons) was used to knock down the flames. Tac 14 from Hamilton Fire Co. arrived just as Engine 22-1 emptied its tank.
Wasko and Byrd remained with Tac 14, while Ratcliffe and Dlabik left to fill Engine 22-1. As Engine 22-1 was leaving the cemetery, Slackwood’s Engine 21 arrived to assist. Engine 22-1 refilled its 500 gallon tank at a hydrant at the corner of Carlton Avenue and Lower Ferry Road and then headed back. After returning to the cemetery, Engine 22-1 took up a position to refill Tac 14, which was utilized to access some of the harder-to-reach areas of the fire. Tac 14 was refilled twice before Engine 22-1 had to again leave to refill from a hydrant on Scotch Road.
While Ratcliffe and Byrd were away refilling the engine, Wasko assisted Dlabik, who began suffering from heat exhaustion. Squad 139 was immediately called in and Dlabik was checked out and given fluids. After a brief rest inside an air conditioned vehicle, he was released by the ambulance crew. After returning from its second refilling run, Engine 22-1 went back along the fence line behind the cemetery and emptied half its tank on several smoldering hot spots. At 5:35 p.m., with the fire almost completely out, Engine 22-1 was released. After once again having its tank refilled and equipment cleaned, Engine 22 was finally back in service at Station 22 by 6 p.m.
May 9, 2000
A few minutes after 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 9, 2000, an Acura Integra and a Toyota Tercel collided at the intersection of Lawrence Road and Princeton Pike. Both drivers and the passenger in the Toyota were injured. At 12:38 p.m., Squad 129, Station 21 and Station 22 were all toned out. Rescue 22 signed on radio at 12:40 p.m. with a crew consisting of Ff. Jeff Sawasky, Driver Robert Santello, Ff. Michael Ratcliffe, and Ff. Joseph Dlabik Jr., as well as Lawrenceville Capt. David Burns (who happened to be visiting Station 22 when the alarm was sounded). Rescue 22 arrived on location first at 12:42 p.m. and found that the driver of the Acura, a woman, was trapped inside the wrecked car. Engine 21-1 reached the scene seconds later. No EMS personnel were yet on scene, so Burns climbed into the back of the auto to stabilize the woman’s neck. Meanwhile, Rescue 22’s crew cribbed the vehicle, then used the Holmatro combination tool to quickly pop open the crushed driver’s door. Rescue Capt./EMT Chris Longo, who arrived on scene in Utility 22, then initiated patient care using the jumpbag and oxygen cylinder off Rescue 22. Mercer County paramedics and a Lawrence ambulance then arrived and took over from Longo. The injured woman was finally removed from the Acura at 12:55 p.m. All three patients were transported by ambulance to the Capital Health System at Fuld hospital. Rescue 22 was released at 1:04 p.m. and back in the firehouse by 1:12 p.m.
May 27, 2000
On Saturday, May 27, 2000, Lawrence Township held its annual Memorial Day parade. For the first time, the parade was scheduled to start at Rider University and proceed down Route 206 to Notre Dame High School. Volunteers from Lawrenceville and Lawrence Road fire companies were standing by with their apparatus in the Rider parking lot waiting for the parade to begin when their pagers were activated at 10:25 a.m. and they were dispatched by Lawrence Control to a reported fire in the clothes dryer in the basement of 13-F Shirley Lane. Lawrenceville Chief Bob Brackett exited the Rider parking lot first at 10:25 a.m., followed by Ladder Tower 23 at 10:26 a.m., and then Engine 22 also at 10:26 a.m. Engine 22’s crew included Capt. Patrick Kent, Capt. Gary Wasko, Capt. Martin Burch, Ff. Tim Kasony Jr., Ff. Edward Kitchen, and Ff. Joseph Dlabik Sr. Engine 24, meanwhile, responded at 10:29 a.m. from Lawrenceville’s sub-station on Lawrence Square Boulevard. Brackett immediately ordered Mercer County Central Communications Center to dispatch the balance of Box 23-10’s first alarm. Therefore, Ladder Tower 51 and Engine 51 from Pennington Borough were both toned out. Engine 22 arrived on scene at 10:31 a.m. and discovered that the residence was charged with heavy smoke. Engine 22’s crew stretched a 1.75-inch handline into the dwelling, but they quickly discovered that the blaze was contained to the clothes dryer. As a result, the handline was never charged and was later backed out and repacked. Engine 22’s crew used a bucket to remove the smoldering contents from the dryer. The charred clothes were taken outside, where they were hosed down with Engine 22’s 2.5-gallon water extinguisher.
Meanwhile, Ladder Tower 23, which arrived on scene at 10:32 a.m., began ventilation efforts. With heavy smoke still in the residence, Chief 23 special-called an extra engine from Hopewell Borough. Engine 24 arrived at 10:38 a.m., Ladder Tower 51 (which had signed on radio at 10:36 a.m.) arrived at 10:42 a.m. and Engine 51 (which responded at 10:38 a.m.) reached the scene at 10:45 a.m. Ultimately, the fire was extinguished with no extension beyond the dryer and positive pressure fans were used to ventilate the smoke from the home. Both Pennington units and Engine 52 (which signed on radio at 10:42 a.m. but never reached the scene) were recalled by Chief 23 at 10:48 a.m. Engine 24 was recalled at 10:52 a.m. At 10:58 a.m., Ladder Tower 23 and Rescue 22 were recalled. Both units returned to the parade, joining back up with the rest of the township fire apparatus as they were just passing Lawrence Road’s firehouse. (While Engine 22 was committed on Shirley Lane, the following volunteers manned Lawrence Road’s other apparatus, which participated in the entire parade but remained available in case any other emergencies were reported: Deputy Chief Richard Farletta, Assistant Chief Wayne Hannon, President James Yates, Fire Police Capt. Robert Hazen, Rescue Lt. Andrew Fosina, Ff. Michael Byrd, Ff. Shaun Dlabik, Ff. Larry Forker, FF. Karen Palise, and Ff. Chris Pangaldi.)
June 15, 2000
At 2:15 p.m. on Thursday, June 15, 2000, a 53-year-old woman discovered a fire inside the kitchen of her home at 12 Lanning Street in Ewing Township. The fire apparently started in the oven, which the women had left turned on in the self-cleaning mode. The woman called 911 from a neighbor’s home and all three Ewing fire companies were in turn dispatched. Ewing police Patrolman William Woolverton arrived on scene first and found flames racing up the kitchen walls. Woolverton emptied a portable extinguisher on the fire, then started spraying water on it from a garden hose. Telesquirt 32 arrived on scene at 2:19 p.m. and reported that there was heavy smoke showing from the dwelling. Squirt 31 arrived on location at 2:22 p.m. With no other Ewing apparatus on radio at that time, Snorkel 21 was dispatched at 2:24 p.m. to respond to the scene. (Snorkel 21 arrived at 2:36 p.m.) Engine 32-1 then signed on radio at 2:30 p.m., and arrived two minutes later. At 2:30 p.m., Lawrence Road Fire Co. was dispatched to cover Station 32. Minutes later Pennington Road Chief Don Young radioed orders for Lawrence Road’s engine to respond directly to the fireground. Engine 22-1 responded with a crew including Ff. Michael Ratcliffe, Ff. Michael Byrd, Ff. Edward Kitchen and Junior Ff. Matthew Farletta. Engine 22-1 arrived at 2:41 p.m. and its crew stood by as relief manpower. At 2:52 p.m., the fire was placed under control. One minute later, Engine 22-1 was sent from the firegound to cover Station 32. Engine 22-1 stood by at Station 32 until 3:22 p.m., and was back at Station 22 by 3:30 p.m.
June 22-July 3, 2000
The unique friendship that has been developed over the years between the volunteers of Lawrence Road Fire Co. and the firefighters of Bethnal Green Fire Station in London, England, was once again demonstrated when Lawrence Road Ff. Michael Ratcliffe visited England from Thursday, June 22, 2000, to Monday, July 3, 2000. Ratcliffe, who first visited the Bethnal Green firehouse while studying at the University of London’s Queen Mary and Westfield College in 1993, returned to England to attend the wedding of Bethnal Green Ff. Matt Zarych. Matt was one of four Bethnal Green firefighters who visited New Jersey in September 1994 and attended the state firefighters’ convention in Wildwood as guests of Lawrence Road Fire Co. He made a return visit to New Jersey the following year with his father, Mick, who retired in 1991 after 24 years with the London Fire Brigade. During his trip, Ratcliffe once again visited Bethnal Green Fire Station, which is located in London’s East End, and presented each Bethnal Green firefighter with the gift of an official Lawrence Road Fire Co. T-shirt. Ratcliffe spent two days riding along as an observer on Bethnal Green’s two firefighting “appliances,” Pump Ladder F261 and Pump F262. He attended a total of nine emergency calls, including a fatal accident in which a 6-year-old girl was run over by a bus on Wednesday, June 28, 2000, and a car fire on Thursday, June 29, 2000.
July 3, 2000
At 3:30 p.m. on Monday, July 3, 2000, Lawrenceville and Lawrence Road fire companies were dispatched to an accident with entrapment on Carter Road. The single-car crash occurred when Louise Taback, an elderly Hopewell Township resident, drove her Saab across Carter Road from Rosedale Road. Taback had been driving south on Rosedale Road, police said. When she reached the end of Rosedale Road, she failed to turn left or right onto Carter Road. Instead, Taback’s car continued straight across Carter Road into the driveway of the home at 215 Carter Road, police said. Taback’s car continued several hundred feet up the long driveway, then finally slammed into a tree. A resident who heard the sound of the crash called 911.
Engine 23 signed on radio at 3:31 p.m. Rescue 22 also signed on radio at 3:31 p.m. with a crew including Rescue Capt. Chris Longo, Driver Robert Santello, Capt. Martin Burch, Ff. Joseph Dlabik Sr., Ff. Joseph Dlabik Jr., Ff. Michael Byrd, Ff. Larry Forker, and Junior Ff. Matt Farletta. Deputy Chief Richard Farletta and Assistant Chief Wayne Hannon also responded directly to the scene. Engine 23 arrived at 3:36 p.m., followed just one minute later by both Hannon and Lawrenceville Capt. Fred Bentley. Rescue 22 arrived at 3:39 p.m., followed one minute later by Farletta. Lawrenceville Deputy Chief Don Huber arrived at 3:46 p.m. Telesquirt 23 (which responded at 3:45 p.m.) arrived at 3:51 p.m.
When Lawrence Road firefighters arrived, they were directed to park Rescue 22 at the entrance of the driveway off Carter Road. As a result, Rescue 22’s crew had to carry all their equipment up the long driveway to the accident scene. Engine 23’s crew began the extrication with their Hurst tool but they ran into problems. Lawrence Road firefighters then assisted with their Holmatro tools. Rescue 22’s crew used the Holmatro O-Cutter, powered by the portable Holmatro generator, to cut and remove a passenger seat to allow EMS personnel access to the injured woman. Rescue 22’s crew then used the brake pedal cutter to remove the pedals and free Taback’s feet. Taback was finally removed from the car at 3:58 p.m. She was then rushed to the trauma unit at Capital Health System at Fuld hospital in Trenton, where she was treated for a broken femur and other internal injuries. Rescue 22 cleared the scene at 4:14 p.m. and was back in quarters by 4:24 p.m.
August 1, 2000
On the evening of Tuesday, August 1, 2000, a fierce thunderstorm swept into Mercer County and unleashed a downpour on Lawrence Township, while at the same time sending blue arcs of lightning across the night sky. During the thunderstorm, an attendant at the Mobil service station at the intersection of Lawrence Road and Lawrenceville-Pennington Road spotted what appeared to be smoke coming from the adjacent single-story building occupied by both Michael Angelo’s Pizza and Lawrenceville Deli. The man promptly phoned 911.
At 11:20 p.m., Lawrence Control dispatched Lawrenceville Fire Co. to 5 Lawrenceville-Pennington Road for a structure fire. Less than 30 seconds later, Mercer County Central Communications Center dispatched Lawrence Road Fire Co. to assist. It was raining heavily and portions of Lawrence Road were slightly flooded at the time. At 11:21 p.m. Lawrenceville Chief Bob Brackett signed on radio and was advised by Lawrence Control that the 911 call had come from the Mobile station. Based on that report, Brackett ordered Mercer County Central to transmit the balance of Box 23-10. As a result, Pennington’s Engine 51 and Ladder Tower 51 were dispatched.
Engine 22, driven by Rescue Lt. Andrew Fosina and commanded by Rescue Capt. Chris Longo, signed on radio at 11:22 p.m. with a crew of Ff. Michael Byrd, Ff. Dave Terzian, Ff. Joseph Dlabik Jr. and Ff. Shaun Dlabik. Rescue 22, meanwhile, responded at 11:23 p.m. with Ff. Joseph Dlabik Sr. in the driver’s seat and Capt. Gary Wasko riding as officer. The crew included Ff. Charles Commini, Ff. Larry Forker, and Ff. Tim Kasony Jr.
Smoke was issuing from the eaves and roof area of the building when Brackett arrived at 11:24 p.m. Closely following him was Engine 22, which reached the scene at 11:25 p.m. and took up a position on Side A. A preconnected 1.75-inch handline was stretched from Engine 22 to the front door of Michael Angelo’s Pizza. Byrd forced entry by taking out the glass door, then he and Longo advanced the handline into the building.
The other members of Engine 22’s crew meanwhile took the 35-foot extension ladder off the apparatus and pitched it to the roof on Side A. They in turn took out a skylight on the roof to ventilate the building. Engine 23, which signed on radio at 11:24 p.m., arrived at 11:26 p.m. and was directed by Hannon to hook into the hydrant on the north side of Lawrenceville-Pennington Road near the intersection with Lawrence Road. At that point, Rescue 22 arrived and laid 200 feet of 4-inch supply hose from Engine 23 to Engine 22.
After laying the supply line, Rescue 22 took up a position in the parking lot of the Mobile station nearest to
Michael Angelo’s Pizza. While Dlabik Sr. placed the telescopic light tower in service to illuminate the fireground, the rest of Rescue 22’s crew proceeded to the fire building to assist with suppression and ventilation operations. Meanwhile, Deputy Chief Richard Farletta, with his son Junior Ff. Matthew Farletta, arrived in Car 22-1, while Assistant Chief Wayne Hannon arrived in Car 22. (Chief John Fleming was away on vacation at the time.)
Ladder Tower 23, which signed on radio at 11:27 p.m., arrived at 11:29 p.m. Ladder Tower 23 parked on Lawrenceville-Pennington Road near Engine 23 and sent its manpower up to the fire building. Engine 22-1 signed on radio at 11:30 p.m. with a crew that included Ff. Ed Budzinski, Ff. Chris Pangaldi, Ff. Walter Hlewicki, Ff. Karen Palise, and Ff. Ron Taglairino.
Byrd and Longo, meanwhile, located the seat of the fire inside the kitchen area of Michael Angelo’s Pizza. The fire, which was centered around a countertop and miscellaneous items stored nearby, was just beginning to roll up against the ceiling when Byrd opened the nozzle. Ultimately, the flames were knocked down with less than half of Engine 22’s 500 gallon tank. The surrounding ceiling was pulled but no extension was found.
In addition to the fire damage sustained to the kitchen, the other areas of Michael Angelo’s Pizza sustained major smoke damage. The delicatessen next door also sustained significant smoke damage. The investigation into the fire was conducted by Lawrenceville Fire Co., Mercer County Assistant Fire Marshal John Kubilewicz and Detective Lloyd Mathis of the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, with assistance from Farletta and Wasko (who is also a detective with the prosecutor’s office.) The investigation concluded that the fire had been accidentally started by an overloaded electrical power strip that had apparently overheated.
The crews from Tower Ladder 51 and Engine 51 (which both arrived shortly after 11:30 p.m.) were ordered to stand by on Side A, but were recalled at 11:47 p.m. after it was determined the fire was under control. Also around 11:47 p.m., Farletta ordered Engine 22-1 to take up and return to the firehouse to stand by with Pennington Road Engine 32-1, which had been dispatched by Mercer County Central to cover Station 22. (At the time, Station 23 was being covered by Hopewell Engine 52.) Engine 22 and Rescue 22, meanwhile, remained on the fireground to assist with overhaul operations.
At 12:15 a.m. on Wednesday, August 2, 2000, Lawrence Control phoned Mercer County Central and asked them to dispatch Slackwood Fire Co. to investigate a smoke condition in the code enforcement trailer located behind the Lawrence Township municipal building at 2207 Lawrence Road. (Apparently, Lawrence Control had been trying to dispatch the call for more than 15 minutes, but a bolt of lightning had hit the police radio tower and knocked out the transmitter.)
Rescue 22 was immediately directed to leave the scene on Lawrenceville-Pennington Road and respond to the smoke condition. Meanwhile, Engine 22-1 and Engine 32-1 responded from Station 22. Rescue 22, along with Hannon in Car 22, arrived at 12:18 a.m. They investigated and found a very slight odor inside the code enforcement offices. The thermal imaging camera off Rescue 22 was placed in service to search for the source of the odor. Meanwhile, Engine 22-1, Engine 32-1, and Engine 21-1 all staged outside.
Ultimately, the thermal imaging camera discovered that the odor was being emitted by a faulty transmitter in a code enforcement radio. The problem was isolated and the assignment was recalled by Hannon at 12:28 a.m. At that point, with both Rescue 22 and Engine 22-1 available, Engine 32-1 was released from its standby.
Less than four minutes later, Engine 22-1 was involved in a motor vehicle accident in front of Station 22. Just prior to reaching the firehouse, all the red warning lights on Engine 22-1 were activated. At that time, southbound traffic behind the apparatus stopped completely, while the only northbound traffic was a single vehicle that was south of Gainsboro Road – far enough away for its driver to see the apparatus and stop. With the way clear in both directions, Budzinski, who was driving, pulled Engine 22-1 into the oncoming lane (the northbound lane) and prepared to back into the firehouse.
At that instant, with Engine 22-1 facing south in the northbound lane, Budzinski realized the car that had been heading north had not stopped and was going to hit the apparatus. Budzinski shouted a warning to the rest of Engine 22-1’s crew, then quickly engaged the engine’s parking brake. At the same time, he let out a continuous blast of the engine’s airhorn in the hope of warning the car’s driver. But the warning went unheeded and the car, a brand-new Ford Mustang, struck Engine 22-1 head-on. Had Budzinski attempted to move the apparatus to the side, the Mustang undoubtedly would have struck the driver’s side jumpseat where Hlewicki was riding.
The force of the collision dented the front bumper of Engine 22-1 and severely twisted the diamondplate near the front suction. Fortunately, no crew members were hurt. (In addition to Budzinski and Hlewicki, Palise was onboard in the front middle, Pangaldi was riding as officer, and Ff. Edward Kitchen was in the other jumpseat). The Mustang, however, sustained extensive front end damage. Nevertheless, the driver attempted to back the vehicle up after the collision and drive away. But the damage was so severe the vehicle barely moved.
Lt. Steven Amiott, who had been in his car stopped in the southbound side of Lawrence Road waiting for Engine 22-1 to back into the firehouse, immediately used his radio to report the accident and call for an ambulance. Rescue 22, which had been only a few minutes behind Engine 22-1, then arrived and its crew rushed over to check on the firefighters riding on Engine 22-1 and also on the driver of the Mustang. Likewise, a township police car, which happened to turn onto Lawrence Road just as the accident happened, hurried to help.
The Mustang’s driver, Brain Sassman, 24, of Princeton Pike, Lawrence, was injured and was initially cared for by firefighters. Lawrence First Aid Squad personnel then arrived and assumed patient care. Fortunately, Sassman was not trapped and was easily removed on a backboard and transported to Capital Health System at Fuld hospital.
The battery cables on the Mustang were cut and a 1.75-inch handline was stretched off Rescue 22 as a precaution. Engine 22 was released from Lawrenceville-Pennington Road at 12:37 a.m. and soon arrived to assist. Township police investigated the crash and took several photographs to document the accident scene. Sassman, who allegedly tried to leave the hospital before the police arrived to talk to him, was reportedly charged with DWI, reckless driving, and failure to yield to an emergency vehicle. Engine 22-1 was taken out of service. Later that morning, the engine’s pump was tested and no additional problems were found. As a result, the apparatus was placed back in service – albeit with a dented front bumper.
August 25, 2000
Vehicle fires are rare occurrences in Lawrence Township Fire District 2, but on Friday, August 25, 2000, volunteers from Lawrence Road Fire Co. were dispatched three different times to reported vehicle fires.
Things actually began at 4:37 p.m. when Station 22 personnel were toned out to help Lawrenceville Fire Co. check an activated fire alarm at 4 Green Avenue. Engine 22 responded at 4:40 p.m. and arrived three minutes later, followed one minute later by Telesquirt 23. Engine 22’s crew stood by in front of the house, while Lawrenceville’s members investigated the alarm.
At 4:48 p.m., Lawrence Control dispatched Lawrence Road Fire Co. to a reported vehicle fire at the intersection of Lawrence Road and Eggerts Crossing Road. Engine 22 was immediately released from Green Avenue and started responding to the vehicle fire. Meanwhile, Rescue 22 signed on radio at 4:49 p.m. with a crew including Capt. Gary Wasko, Rescue Lt. Andrew Fosina, Lt. Steve Amiott and Ff. Edward Kitchen.
Rescue 22 arrived at 4:51 p.m. to find a pickup truck hauling a horse trailer stopped on Wayside Lane at the corner with Lawrence Road. A small fire had broken out in the brakes for the rear passenger’s side wheels of the horse trailer. Fortunately, the pickup’s driver, Joe Morris of Columbus, N.J., had managed to get the horse he was carrying out of the burning trailer.
The animal, which was in the process of being shipped from the Southwind Farm in Hopewell to Ohio, was waiting with Morris’ wife on the lawn of a home on the opposite side of Lawrence Road when firefighters arrived. Rescue 22’s crew removed the wheel next to the smoking brakes and used a 2.5-gallon water extinguisher to douse the fire. (Prior to Rescue 22’s arrival, Morris tried unsuccessfully to smother the fire by throwing hay on the hot brakes.) Meanwhile, Engine 22 was recalled and returned to Station 22 by 4:57 p.m. With damage to the trailer being confined to a very small area, Morris decided to resume his journey.
Traffic on Lawrence Road was stopped by firefighters and police, and the horse was walked back to Wayside Lane. Morris and his wife, with assistance from Wasko, then spent 15 minutes trying to coax the frightened animal back into the trailer. The horse was finally corralled and Rescue 22 was back in station by 5:21 p.m.
It was less than a half-hour later when the second vehicle fire was reported. At 5:46 p.m., Lawrence Road members were dispatched for a working fire in the engine compartment of a 1989 Ford Thunderbird in front of 181 Eldridge Avenue. Rescue 22 signed on radio at 5:48 p.m., followed less than 30 seconds later by Engine 22. Both units arrived on location at 5:49 p.m. The owner, Dolores Goss Burkes, told arriving firefighters that she had parked the car in front of her home and went inside to unload groceries. When she came back outside, she noticed smoke coming from the engine compartment. Lawrence Police Patrolman Dave Burns used a dry chemical extinguisher to knock down some of the fire prior to the arrival of Rescue 22. Rescue 22’s crew then reached the scene and went in service with the 1.75-inch trash line. The remaining flames were quickly extinguished, and damage was held to the engine compartment. A preliminary investigation indicated the blaze was caused by a malfunction of an electrical sensor. Lawrence Road crews were back in quarters by 6:12 p.m.
At 8:47 p.m., Station 22 personnel were dispatched to the area of 75 Altamawr Avenue for the third reported vehicle fire. Rescue 22 responded at 8:50 p.m. and arrived two minutes later to find nothing showing. An investigation by Rescue 22’s crew and police determined that the anonymous 911 call reporting the blaze was an apparent malicious false alarm and may have been part of an ongoing dispute between area neighbors. Rescue 22 recalled and returned to Station 22 by 8:58 p.m., thus ending a very usual series of incidents.
September 12, 2000
An unusual accident occurred less than a block from the Lawrence Road Fire Co. firehouse on the evening of Tuesday, September 12, 2000. The accident occurred around 5:45 p.m. when a 1989 Lincoln Towncar going south on Lawrence Road sideswiped an Oldsmobile Cutlass traveling northbound. The collision was not a serious one but its force was just enough to cause the Towncar’s female driver to lose control and swerve to the left. As a result, the Towncar veered across the northbound lane and jumped the curb in front of the Varsity Pizza restaurant at 1296 Lawrence Road. As the Towncar raced over the sidewalk, it slammed into one of the posts for a large street sign advertising Varsity Pizza and the recently-opened Dunkin’ Donuts shop and Baskin Robbins ice cream parlor next door. After tearing the post from the ground, the Towncar became partially airborne and spun about, heading directly for the front wall between Varsity Pizza and Dunkin’ Donuts. But the Towncar struck the rear of a parked Toyota 4-Runner. After hitting the sport utility, the Towncar raced forward and crashed into a line of tall shrubs separating Varsity Pizza’s front parking lot from the private home next door. Fortunately, no pedestrians were in the parking lot at the time of the crash.
Ff. Chris Pangaldi was in the firehouse parking lot when he heard the sound of the crash and looked over to see the Towncar come to a halt in the shrubs. Pangaldi immediately ran into the firehouse and used the hotline to the police desk. He advised the dispatcher of the accident, and asked for the fire company and first aid squad to be dispatched. He then ran over to the accident scene. Lawrence First Aid Squad was promptly dispatched. However, when the dispatcher went to tone out Lawrence Road Fire Co., she hit the button for Station 23. Therefore, Lawrence Road pagers were never activated, so the only members who responded were those who heard the accident reported on their police scanners.
Fortunately, nearly a dozen Station 22 volunteers responded, and Rescue 22 was actually on the scene within one minute of the botched dispatch. Rescue 129 was also dispatched and arrived at 5:54 p.m. The Towncar’s female driver and her male passenger were not entrapped, but the shrubs around the car made it difficult for ambulance personnel to reach them. Firefighters therefore used a chainsaw to cut away some of the shrubs. Several Lawrence Road volunteers helped EMS personnel board and collar both of the car’s occupants. Both victims were freed from the wreckage by 6:04 p.m. They were transported by ambulance to the trauma unit at Capital Health System at Fuld hospital, where their injuries were found to be not life-threatening.
September 22, 2000
On the afternoon of Friday, September 22, 2000, a fault in an electrical panel sparked a blaze in an office under renovation on the top floor of a three-story building at the New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance complex at 301 Sullivan Way, Ewing Township. At 1:36 p.m. Box 33-10 was transmitted by Mercer County Central Communications Center, and volunteers from West Trenton (Station 33), Pennington Road (Station 32), and Prospect Heights (Station 31) fire companies were all dispatched. Off-duty Ewing police Detective Patrick Holt, who at the time was moonlighting as a New Jersey Manufacturers security guard, immediately went to investigate. Holt found heavy smoke issuing from the building and used his radio to advise a Ewing police dispatcher that he had a working fire. He then raced upstairs to discover that the office where the fire started was already heavily-involved.
Engine 33-2 responded at 1:39 p.m. and arrived on scene just one minute later. Telesquirt 32 signed on radio at 1:38 p.m. and arrived at 1:43 p.m. Engine 31-1 responded at 1:41 p.m. and arrived at 1:46 p.m. Engine 32-1 also arrived on the fireground at 1:46 p.m., having responded four minutes earlier. Ladder Tower 31 signed on radio at 1:42 p.m. and reached the scene at 1:48 p.m. Ladder Tower 33 responded at 1:50 p.m. and arrived at 1:54 p.m. At 1:54 p.m., Mercer County Central Communications Center started to cover the Ewing firehouses. While dispatchers correctly toned out Titusville’s Union Fire Co. to cover Station 33, they mistakenly toned out Pennington and Lawrenceville fire companies to cover the other two stations. Mercer County Central was promptly advised of their error, and both Pennington and Lawrenceville were recalled.
At 1:57 p.m. Slackwood Engine 21 was correctly dispatched to cover Station 31, Lawrence Road Engine 22-1 was dispatched to cover Station 32, and Ladder Tower 80 from Yardley-Makefield Fire Co. (Bucks County, Pa.) was dispatched to cover Station 33. Engine 22-1 responded with Rescue Lt. Andrew Fosina in command and Ff. Michael Ratcliffe driving. Ff. Edward Kitchen and Ff. Michael Byrd made up the crew. At 2:01 p.m., Engine 22-1 was requested to the fireground for manpower relief. Engine 22-1, which by that time was already on Eggerts Crossing Road enroute to Pennington Road’s firehouse, reached the scene at 2:08 p.m.
Meanwhile, as first-in Ewing volunteers attacked the blaze, they realized that contractors renovating the office had been in the process of removing asbestos, and that plastic bags containing removed pieces of the cancer-causing material were in close proximity to the flames. As a result, all firefighters operating on the fire floor were ordered to wear SCBA at all times, and a booster line was pulled off Engine 32-1 to hose down and decontaminate firefighters as they exited the fire building. The blaze was declared under control at 2:04 p.m.
(At 2:02 p.m. Pennington Engine 51 was dispatched to cover Station 32 in place of Engine 22-1. Engine 53-1 and Ladder Tower 80 both scratched their assignment to cover West Trenton’s firehouse. Therefore, Hopewell Engine 52 was dispatched at 2:18 p.m. to stand by at Station 33. At 2:19 p.m., Slackwood Snorkel 21 was toned out to relocate to Station 32 but then scratched. So Lawrenceville Ladder Tower 23 was dispatched at 2:31 p.m. to stand by at Pennington Road’s station.)
Shortly after arriving on scene Ratcliffe was ordered to back Engine 22-1 into a position where he would be able to supply tank water to Engine 32-1 if needed for the decon operation. A 3-inch supply line was stretched from Engine 22-1 to Engine 32-1 as a precaution. Meanwhile, Engine 22-1’s crew stood by at the command post awaiting deployment. Fosina, Kitchen and Byrd were eventually ordered to go into the fire building to position several fans on the third floor to assist with ventilation efforts. After exiting the building, Engine 22-1’s crew was hosed down and then sent to the EMS command post for a precautionary examination and rehab. (At the same time Lawrence Road firefighters were sent into the fire building, Engine 21, Ladder Tower 23, Engine 51, and Engine 52 were dispatched to check a smoke odor at 1980 North Olden Avenue. The incident turned out to be minor.)
During overhaul operations in the fire building, firefighters discovered that at least one of the bags containing removed asbestos had melted in the fire. As a result, incident commanders decided to upgrade the level of decontamination. At 3:05 p.m. Engine 51 and Engine 52 were both special-called to the scene for extra manpower. At 3:09 p.m., Special Services 27, the HazMat unit from Bristol Myers Squibb, was special-called as well. (Subsequently, an engine from Enterprise Fire Co. was dispatched at 3:06 p.m. to cover Station 32, and Trenton Engine 8 was dispatched at 3:10 p.m. to cover Station 33)
At 3:35 p.m., Special Services 27 arrived on scene and set up its decon shower in the parking lot. Several Ewing firefighters who did not wear SCBA during the initial stages of the fire were forced to strip out of their clothes and be hosed down in the shower. Several contractors who had also been in the building without protection when the fire broke out also underwent decontamination. Approximately 22 people, including Holt, several firefighters and contractors, were taken to area hospitals for an examination after they were decontaminated. Engine 22-1 was released at 4:55 p.m. Before leaving, Engine 22-1 pumped more than 250 gallons of water to refill the tank on Engine 32-1 (which was supplying Squibb’s decontamination shower). Engine 22-1, which refilled its tank from a hydrant on Sullivan Way, was back in quarters at Station 22 by 5:21 p.m.
October 4, 2000
About 7:40 p.m. on Wednesday, October 4, 2000, a line of severe thunderstorms, propelled by powerful wind gusts, entered the Mercer County region and caused extensive damage to the northern end of Lawrence Township. Trees were toppled, utility poles were snapped, electrical wires were torn down, and several homes were damaged along parts of Carter Road, Lawrence Road and Province Line Road.
Lawrence Control soon began receiving 911 calls from all over north Lawrence. At 7:49 p.m., Lawrenceville Fire Co. was dispatched to help patrol units check the numerous reports of damage. The extent of the damage quickly became apparent and, at the request of Chief 23, Lawrence Road Fire Co. volunteers were dispatched at 7:58 p.m. to assist. Engine 22-1 responded with Rescue Capt. Chris Longo, Capt. Gary Wasko, Ff. Ed Budzinski, Ff. Kelly Kasony and Ff. Mike Byrd as the crew. Utility 22 responded with Capt. Martin Burch. (Byrd later left Engine 22’s crew to team up with Burch).
At 8:10 p.m., Chief 23 requested that Slackwood Fire Co. also be dispatched to assist. (Chief 23 later requested that Lawrence Township’s Office of Emergency Management be activated. Rescue 129 from Lawrence First Aid Squad and Special Services 27 from Bristol Myers Squibb Co. were also special-called to assist.) Following a request for additional manpower from Station 22, Engine 22, driven by Ff. James Yates, responded with Lt. Steve Amiott, Ff. Joseph Dlabik Jr., Ff. Chris Pangaldi, Ff. Walter Hlewicki, and Junior Ff. Jamie Yates. After dropping off Engine 22’s crew at the disaster scene James Yates returned the apparatus to Station 22, where several other Lawrence Road volunteers stood by to protect the southern end of the township.
Engine 22’s crew meanwhile split up to increase their effectiveness. Pangaldi, Hlewicki and Jamie Yates joined Utility 22’s crew, and Amiott and Joseph Dlabik Jr. teamed up with the crew from Lawrenceville’s Ladder Tower 23. Initially, Engine 22-1 was ordered to check damage to houses on Lawrence Road, proceeding north from the intersection with Carter Road. Engine 22-1’s crew removed fallen tree limbs from the roadway and driveways of homes at 3331 and 3341 Lawrence Road. They also discovered a fallen electrical wire that was still energized and made a request for a PSE&G crew to expedite. They then discovered that extensive damage had been sustained to the house at 3461 Lawrence Road. Several trees were toppled in the yard, part of the home’s chimney was damaged, holes were punched in the roof, and planks were literally torn away from the back porch.
Rescue Capt. Chris Longo and Capt. Gary Wasko were both hurt when a large tree limb fell on them while they were assessing damage at a house on Lawrence Road. The tree limb struck Longo on the head and Wasko on the shoulder. Fortunately, both volunteers were wearing full protective clothing, including their helmets. Longo began feeling dizzy not long after the accident occurred. He was told to sit down and rest on Engine 22-1’s rear step and a priority message was radioed to Lawrence Control for EMS to immediately respond to Engine 22-1’s location. Assistant Chief Wayne Hannon (traveling in his own pickup truck) and Chief 23 both arrived a short time later, followed by a Lawrence Township ambulance and Telesquirt 23.
Longo’s turnout gear was stripped off him and a brace placed around his neck as a precaution. He was then loaded into the ambulance and rushed to the emergency room at Capital Health System at Fuld hospital in Trenton. Kasony rode in the ambulance alongside Longo and Deputy Chief Richard Farletta responded in his deputy chief’s car to the hospital to check on his condition. (Ultimately, Longo was examined and found not to have suffered a concussion. He was later released from the hospital and sent home.) Wasko was examined at the scene and did not require transport. He was allowed to continue operating with Engine 22-1.
Not long after the ambulance departed with Longo, a transformer exploded on a utility pole a short distance south of Engine 22-1 and Telesquirt 23. Chief 23 immediately ordered all apparatus and personnel to relocate away from the live electrical wires that crossed overhead from the exploding transformer. A short time later, several Lawrence Road members responded in their personal vehicles to bolster Engine 22-1’s depleted crew. Ff. Shaun Dlabik responded in his jeep with Ff. Larry Forker, while Ff. Joseph Dlabik Sr. responded with his pickup truck with Ff. Chris Dlabik and Junior Ff. Matt Farletta. Engine 22-1, with its reinforced crew, was next sent to check damage on nearby Deer Run.
Firefighters soon found that the house at 3 Deer Run had sustained significant damage. At least four large trees had fallen against the house, causing a large hole to open up in the roof. A large section of soffit also had been torn away. Using a ladder from Engine 22-1, Wasko, Forker and Shaun Dlabik climbed to the roof and used chainsaws to cut up the trees that had fallen against the home. Not far away, Amiott and Joseph Dlabik Jr. worked with Ladder Tower 23’s crew to check damage along Lawrence Road north of the Bristol Myers Squibb property. They too cut up several large trees that had fallen across the roadway. Utility 22’s crew (Burch, Byrd, Pangaldi, Hlewicki, and Jamie Yates) meanwhile was directed to check on damage along Carter Road. Firefighters started at the intersection with Lawrence Road and worked up Carter Road.
Utility 22’s crew discovered extensive damage to trees and utility poles along Carter Road. Several poles were so badly damaged that the live electrical wires they supported were either torn completely away or hung dangerously low. The firefighters used chainsaws to cut up and remove trees from the road. They also checked on the welfare of residents in each and every home. Just beyond 38 Carter Road, the road was found to be completely impassable due to toppled trees and energized wires that hung down to about shoulder height. Utility 22’s crew came across a woman who had hit a fallen tree while driving south on Carter Road. The woman’s car was heavily damage. Although she herself was not seriously injured, the woman had been shaken up by her ordeal. Utility 22’s crew immediately took the female to Lawrenceville’s firehouse, so she could wait in comfort until conditions on Carter Road were made safe enough for her to retrieve her car. After dropping off the civilian at Station 23, Utility 22’s crew went to check Carter Road on the opposite side of the roadway obstruction. To reach the area, Utility 22 responded up Cold Soil Road, then down Van Kirk Road to Carter Road.
Firefighters started near the entrance to Bristol Myers Squibb and worked down Carter Road, again clearing away debris in the roadway and checking every home. Firefighters were able to check all the way down to 58 Carter Road before they again found their path blocked by fallen trees and live electrical wires. Later, after PSE&G managed to secure power to the area and confirm that it had been turned off, Lawrence Road volunteers helped cut up and remove fallen trees from the middle of Carter Road. (Signal 22, the volunteer canteen from Trenton, arrived about 11:30 p.m. to provide weary firefighters with refreshments.) The last Lawrence Road firefighters finally returned to quarters by 12:30 a.m. The next day, the National Weather Service investigated and concluded that the damage in the township had been caused by powerful straight-line winds and not a tornado, as some firefighters and area residents had first suspected.
October 8-14, 2000
National Fire Prevention Week was held Sunday, October 8, through Saturday, October 14, 2000. Throughout the week, Paid Driver Robert Santello conducted fire prevention classes at Benjamin Franklin School and St. Ann’s School. Students from Eldridge Park School, meanwhile, visited the firehouse for classes. Among the topics discussed with the students were the importance of smoke detectors and having a plan to escape their homes in case of fire; the proper use of 911; and how to “stop, drop and roll” if their clothes ever caught fire. The students were also given a close-up view of what a firefighter looks like in full turnout gear and SCBA. Santello was assisted in presenting the various classes by Rescue Lt. Andrew Fosina, Ff. Edward Kitchen, Ff. Michael Ratcliffe, Ff. Michael Byrd, Ff. Rebecca Smith, Ff. Chris Pangaldi, Ff. Kris Palmer, and Slackwood Ff. Michael Burzachiello. One of the classes held at Benjamin Franklin School was interrupted when Lawrence Road Fire Co. was dispatched to assist Slackwood Fire Co. at an odor of smoke at the Fashion Bug store in Lawrence Shopping Center at 10:58 a.m. on Tuesday, October 10, 2000. The odor proved to be unfounded, and Station 22 firefighters returned to the school to continue classes after being released from the shopping center at 11:17 a.m.
October 9, 2000
Lawrence Road firefighters helped extricate two people from a car that slammed into a utility pole in the early morning hours of Monday, October 9, 2000. The accident on Spruce Street in front of the Coleman Buick car dealership was reported to Lawrence Township police at 3:56 a.m. The exact location of the accident was unclear, so initially only a patrol car was dispatched. Several minutes went by before the patrol car arrived and found the accident. A Lawrence First Aid Squad ambulance was then toned out. A few minutes later, police realized that the car’s occupants were trapped and Slackwood Fire Co. and Rescue 129 were dispatched at 4:09 a.m. Many Lawrence Road volunteers, having been awakened by radio traffic about the accident on their scanners, hurried over to Station 22 in anticipation of being dispatched. (According to township dispatch agreements, Rescue 129 and Rescue 22 are both to be sent to all rescue assignments in Slackwood’s district, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.) Capt. Gary Wasko finally had to call Lawrence Control to remind the dispatcher of the protocol. Station 22 was in turn dispatched at 4:13 a.m. Rescue 22 signed on radio three minutes later with a crew that included Rescue Capt. Chris Longo, Wasko, Ff. Michael Ratcliffe, Ff. Chris Pangaldi, Ff. Joseph Dlabik Sr., Ff. Chris Dlabik, and Ff. Joseph Dlabik Jr. Chief John Fleming, meanwhile, responded in his chief’s vehicle. Slackwood Fire Chief Ken Johnson arrived on scene at 4:14 a.m. He was followed at 4:16 a.m. by Rescue 129, and at 4:17 a.m. by Engine 21-1. Two minutes later, at 4:19 a.m., Rescue 22 arrived. Engine 21 arrived a few minutes after that.
Rescuers found that the auto, a Dodge Colt, had struck the utility pole almost head-on. It had sustained heavy front end damage, then bounced back to come to rest a few feet from the pole. The car’s front passenger, Igor Glouchenia, a 28-year-old Trenton resident who had suffered a laceration to his neck, was easily removed. But the driver, Anna Jurewicz-Mankowska, 25, also of Trenton, proved to be far harder to extricate. She had suffered head injuries and her legs were pinned by the crumpled dashboard. Rescue 129’s crew stretched their Hurst tools on the driver’s side, and Rescue 22’s crew deployed their Holmatro tools on the passenger’s side. Engine 21’s crew stood by with a hoseline as a precaution, and Engine 21-1’s crew assisted where needed. Rescuers immediately removed the car’s windshield. Rescue 22’s crew used their Holmatro O-Cutter to cut away the front passenger’s side door. They then helped Rescue 129’s crew cut away the front driver’s side door. Relief cuts were then made on the floorboards and the A posts were cut. Holmatro and Hurst rams were then utilized to displace the dashboard. The injured woman was placed on a backboard and finally removed from the vehicle. After being extricated, the victims were taken by ambulance to the trauma unit at the Capital Health System at Fuld hospital in Trenton. The driver was admitted to the hospital in fair condition, while the passenger was treated and later released. At 4:41 a.m., as Slackwood personnel and Rescue 22’s crew were still on Spruce Street waiting for the wrecked Dodge to be removed, Lawrence Control dispatched Station 21 and Station 22 to an activated fire alarm at 2572 Brunswick Pike. Engine 21-1 was ordered to remain on Spruce Street, while Engine 21 and Rescue 22 were both ordered to take in the new alarm. Engine 22, meanwhile, responded from quarters. The alarm was ultimately discovered to have been triggered by a malfunction and all Lawrence Road crews were back in Station 22 by 5:05 a.m.
November 27, 2000
On Monday, November 27, 2000, Lawrence Road Fire Co. volunteers helped extricate a woman from a car involved in a collision with a sport utility vehicle. The accident occurred about 9:35 a.m. on Princeton Avenue, near the access road leading to the rear of the Trenton Farmers Market, when the 1985 Chrysler Fifth Avenue driven by Vera Haines, 62, of 2350 Princeton Pike, Lawrence, was struck by the 1998 Ford Expedition driven by Christine Holcombe, 23, of Parkside Avenue, Ewing. According to police, Haines was driving north on Princeton Avenue and tried to turn left onto the road for the farmers market. She apparently did not seen Holcombe, who was going south on Princeton Avenue, police said. As a result, the front of Holcombe’s Ford struck the passenger’s side of Haines’ Chrysler, police said. The force of the impact caused extensive damage to the Chrysler’s front passenger’s side and pushed the car partially onto the nearby sidewalk. Fortunately, Haines had no passengers.
At 9:37 a.m., Lawrence Control dispatched Slackwood Fire Co., Lawrence Road Fire Co., and Lawrence First Aid Squad to the accident. Rescue 22 signed on radio at 9:40 a.m. with a crew that included Rescue Lt. Andrew Fosina, Driver Robert Santello, Ff. Michael Ratcliffe, and Ff. James Pidcock. (Pidcock moved to Colorado in 1999 but was back in New Jersey at the time visiting family for the Thanksgiving holiday.) Engine 21-1 responded at 9:41 a.m., followed one minute later by Rescue 129. Slackwood Chief Ken Johnson arrived on scene at 9:40 a.m. and found that Haines’ legs were pinned under the crumpled dashboard of the Chrysler. Engine 21-1 and Rescue 22 both arrived at 9:42 a.m. While Engine 21-1’s crew stretched a booster line into a standby position, Ratcliffe cribbed the Chrysler and Santello cut the battery cable. Pidcock and Fosina then went in service with Rescue 22’s Holmatro Combination Tool and O-Cutter to remove the front passenger’s side door. Once the door was off, a relief cut was made, then Ratcliffe moved in with a ram to displace the dashboard. Haines’ legs were still pinned after the ram was extended, so additional extrication work became necessary.
Rescue 129, staffed by Lawrence First Aid Rescue Capt. Michael Byrd and EMT Kris Palmer (both of whom are Lawrence Road firefighters), arrived at 9:45 a.m. and immediately went into service assisting Rescue 22. A Glas-Master was used to remove the car’s windshield. The front driver’s side door was then cut off, and one of Rescue 129’s rams was placed into position and extended on that side to lift the dashboard off Haines’ legs. The A and B posts on both sides were then cut through, relief cuts were made, and the roof was raised and folded back. Throughout the extrication, First Aid Squad EMT Jason Bergstrom stayed in the car to care for Haines. Once the roof was out of the way, a backboard was placed into position and Haines was slid onto the board. She was finally removed from the car at 10:05 a.m. She was then taken by Lawrence First Aid Squad to the Capital Health System at Fuld hospital, where she was treated for minor injuries and later released. Holcombe and her passenger were not injured, according to police. Police said Haines was issued a summons for careless driving. Rescue 22 cleared the scene at 10:15 a.m. and was back in quarters by 10:23 a.m.
December 3, 2000
It was shortly before 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, December 3, 2000, when a fire broke out inside the stock room at the rear of the Electronics Boutique store on the upper level of Quaker Bridge Mall at 3320 Brunswick Pike. A shrink-wrap machine in the stock room was responsible for the blaze. A heatgun, used to melt the clear plastic, was accidentally left turned on and hanging from a hook. Heat from the gun steadily built up until it ignited boxes and other paper products stored nearby. David Kowal, an Electronics Boutique employee, phoned 911 after spotting smoke coming from the stock room. At about that same time, the growing fire triggered a sprinkler head inside the stock room. At 1:27 p.m., Lawrence Control dispatched the Lawrenceville and Slackwood fire companies to a smoke condition in the store.
Lawrenceville Chief Bob Brackett responded at 1:28 p.m. After hearing on his scanner an update over the township police frequency that the mall’s sprinkler system had activated, Brackett ordered Mercer County Central Communications Center to tone out the balance of Box 23-5’s first alarm. As a result, Engine 12 and Rescue 12 from Mercerville Fire Co. were both dispatched. Heavy smoke was pouring from around the stock room’s closed door when Lawrence Township police Sgt. Thomas Macheda arrived. Macheda immediately radioed he had a working fire, and then directed Patrolmen Judd Lippincott, Joe Lech IV, Chris DiMeglio and Jim Vardanega to evacuate neighboring stores and to make sure that the fire lanes outside the nearest mall entrance were clear of cars. Brackett ordered a second alarm as soon as he heard Macheda’s sizeup. At 1:31 p.m., the Lawrence Road, Princeton Junction, Enterprise and Pennington Borough fire companies were dispatched by Mercer County Central.
The following apparatus responded: Engine 21-3 at 1:29 p.m.; Telesquirt 23 at 1:31 p.m.; Ladder Tower 44 at 1:33 p.m.; Engine 22 at 1:34 p.m.; Snorkel 21 at 1:35 p.m.; Engine 23 at 1:35 p.m.; Engine 24 at 1:37 p.m.; Engine 22-1 at 1:38 p.m.; Engine 51 at 1:39 p.m.; Engine 21 at 1:40 p.m.; Utility 21 at 1:40 p.m.; Rescue 12 at 1:40 p.m.; and Ladder Tower 23 at 1:45 p.m. Engine 12 and Special Services 14 also responded but the times they signed on radio were not logged by Mercer County Central. In addition to Chief 23, the following fireline officers responded separately: Chief 14; Deputy 14-1; Deputy 21; Assistant 21; Deputy 22; Deputy 23; Chief 44; Deputy 44; Assistant 44; Chief 51; and Deputy 51. (The following Lawrence Road members responded: Assistant Chief Wayne Hannon, Capt. Gary Wasko, Ff. Joseph Dlabik Sr., Ff. Joseph Dlabik Jr. and Ff. Michael Byrd on Engine 22; Ff. Michael Ratcliffe, Ff. Walter Hlewicki, Ff. Chris Dlabik and Ff. Kris Palmer on Engine 22-1; and Deputy Chief Richard Farletta and his son, Junior Ff. Matt Farletta, in the deputy chief’s car.) A 1:34 p.m., Lawrenceville Deputy Chief Don Huber arrived, followed one minute later by Engine 21-3. The arrival times of Telesquirt 23 and Engine 22 were not logged by Mercer County Central. Ladder Tower 44 reached the scene at 1:39 p.m. Engine 23, Snorkel 21 and Engine 24 all arrived at 1:40 p.m. Engine 12 arrived at 1:41 p.m. Engine 22-1 and Special Services 14 arrived at 1:44 p.m., followed at 1:45 p.m. by Rescue 12, and Engine 21 at 1:46 p.m. Engine 51 arrived at 1:49 p.m., followed at 1:53 p.m. by Ladder Tower 23. The arrival time of Utility 21 was incorrectly logged.
Firefighters converged on the mall entrance near the Sears’ pickup department, since that entrance opened directly onto the mall’s upper level and was located not far from the Electronics Boutique store. The sprinkler system initially held the fire in check and contained the flames to the Electronics Boutique stock room. But at some point before the blaze was entirely extinguished, mall maintenance workers (allegedly wishing to prevent water damage) shut off the sprinkler head in the stock room. As a result, the flames started to again intensify. At the time, firefighters did not know the sprinkler system had been shut off. Therefore, Slackwood firefighters were ordered to connect a supply line to the exterior fire department connection to supplement the mall’s sprinkler system. Lawrenceville firefighters meanwhile attempted to stretch a 1.75-inch handline from Telesquirt 23 down an access hallway alongside McDonald’s restaurant. But the distance was too great and the handline would not reach. Engine 22’s crew was then directed to break into a locked cabinet containing a preconnected mall firehose.
Ultimately, the fire was knocked down and was declared under control at 1:57 p.m. Although damage was contained to the stock room, the entire Electronics Boutique store was damaged by smoke. The store directly below, Bath & Body Works, sustained water damage. A large portion of the mall was also filled with a strong odor of the smoke the still filled Electronics Boutique. As a result, positive pressure fans, including one from Engine 22, were used to blow smoke from the store out in the mall concourse, so it could be removed by the mall’s exhaust system. Shoppers getting ready for the upcoming holiday season appeared unconcerned by the fact that there was a total of nine engines, three aerials, one rescue, one cascade, one utility and 12 fire chief’s vehicles on the scene, as well as numerous police vehicles and several emergency medical units. In fact, some shoppers tried driving around the apparatus in an effort to park as close as possible to the mall entrance. Several of the motorists became very upset when they were told by firefighters to move their cars. After settling for distant parking spaces, many shoppers entered the mall through other entrances and continued to shop. (Although a few businesses on the upper level near the Electronics Boutique store were closed, other businesses on the opposite side of the upper level and the entire first floor remained open.) Both Lawrence Road engines were released from the scene about 2:22 p.m. and were back in quarters by 2:35 p.m. Throughout the incident, Ladder Tower 31 and an engine from Station 32 stood by at the Lawrence Road firehouse, while Engine 14-1 covered Station 21 and Engine 52 covered Station 23.
December 23, 2000
Operation Santa Claus – which was originally scheduled for Saturday, December 16, 2000, but had to be postponed because of bad weather – was held Saturday, December 23, 2000. The sky was clear, but temperatures were chilly (the daily high was only 23 degrees) as Lawrence Road volunteers toured all the streets in Lawrence Township Fire District 2 and passed out candy-canes to the residents. All three engines and Utility 22 (with a large stuffed toy of Dr. Suess’ Grinch along for the ride) took part in the event, which began at about 1 p.m. and was completed by 9 p.m. Santa (portrayed first by Rescue Lt. Andrew Fosina and later by Ff. Michael Ratcliffe) waved to the crowds of children from his seat on the top of Rescue 22. During Operation Santa Claus, two emergency assignments came in. Both involved activated fire alarms in Lawrenceville’s district. The first, at 80 Lawrenceville-Pennington Road, was reported at 3:51 p.m. and was caused by careless cooking. The second, at 42 Van Kirk Road, was reported at 7:16 p.m. and was caused by a malfunction of the system. Engine 22 responded to both alarms, while the rest of the apparatus continued with Santa’s operation.
December 27, 2000
On Wednesday, December 27, 2000, volunteers from Lawrence Road Fire Co. helped battle a structure fire in the Tiffany Woods townhouse development. The evening actually started at 5:41 p.m. when Lawrence Road firefighters were toned out for a dewatering assignment in the home at 1800 Lawrence Road. Chief 22 responded at 5:43 p.m., while Rescue 22 and Utility 22 both signed on radio at 5:46 p.m. Chief 22, Rescue 22, and Utility 22 all arrived at 5:48 p.m. to find approximately four feet of water in the basement. Two submersible pumps were placed in the basement to remove the water. Since it was not necessary for them to remain on the scene at that time, Rescue 22 and Utility 22 were released and both units were back in quarters by 6:13 p.m. About an hour later, Ff. Chris Pangaldi, Ff. John Cocciolillo, and Junior Ff. Joseph Savitsky returned to 1800 Lawrence Road with Utility 22 to check on the progress of the submersible pumps. Assistant Chief Wayne Hannon also returned in his pickup truck to supervise the operation.
While Utility 22’s crew was retrieving the submersible pumps, Lawrence Control began receiving several 911 calls reporting a working fire in the home at 63 J. Russel Smith Road in the Tiffany Woods development located off Spruce Street. At 7:28 p.m., Lawrence Control dispatched the Slackwood and Lawrence Road fire companies, as well as an ambulance from the Lawrence First Aid Squad. Hannon and Utility 22 immediately responded back to Station 22. Prospect Heights Fire Co. (which is supposed to be automatically dispatched on all alarms in that part of Slackwood’s district) was dispatched at 7:30 p.m. by Mercer County Central Communications Center.
Chief John Fleming signed on radio at 7:28 p.m., followed two minutes later by Slackwood Deputy Chief Mark Lenarski. Engine 21-1 signed on radio at 7:30 p.m., followed at 7:31 p.m. by Engine 22. Snorkel 21 and Rescue 22 both responded at 7:32 p.m. (Engine 22 was staffed by Hannon, Ff. Charles Commini, Ff. Edward Kitchen, Ff. Walter Hlewicki, Ff. Tim Kasony Jr. and Savitsky. Rescue 22 had a crew of Capt. Gary Wasko, Pangaldi, and Cocciolillo.) At 7:33 p.m., Lenarski arrived on scene and reported he had heavy fire showing from the first-floor windows on Sides A and B of a two-story semidetached home. He immediately ordered Mercer County Central to dispatch the balance of Box 21-01’s first alarm. As a result, Rescue 32 from Pennington Road Fire Co. and the Lawrenceville Fire Co. were toned out at 7:33 p.m.
Additional apparatus to respond included: Squirt 31 at 7:35 p.m.; Ladder Tower 31 at 7:38 p.m.; Telesquirt 23 and Ladder Tower 23 both at 7:38 p.m. Engine 22-1 responded at 7:44 p.m. with Ff. Michael Byrd, Ff. Joseph Dlabik Sr., Ff. Joseph Dlabik Jr., Ff. Shaun Dlabik and Ff. Chris Dlabik on board. Engine 31-1 responded at 7:45 p.m. Rescue 32 also responded but its response time was not logged. Fleming reached the scene at 7:34 p.m., followed seconds later by both Engine 21-1 and Engine 22.
Engine 21-1 positioned in front of the fire building, and its crew immediately stretched a 1.75-inch handline. As flames shot out from the first-floor front window, the Slackwood firefighters entered the home through the front door and began to attack the flames in the living room – which was fully-involved. A second 1.75-inch handline was stretched a short time later as a backup line. Meanwhile, Engine 22 took up a position at a hydrant at the end of J. Russel Smith Road. While Commini hooked up to the hydrant, Engine 22’s crew hand-stretched 100 feet of 5-inch supply hose to Engine 21-1. The other apparatus arrived in this order: Snorkel 21, Rescue 22 and Squirt 31 all at 7:37 p.m.; Ladder Tower 31 at 7:41 p.m.; Telesquirt 23 and Ladder Tower 23 both at 7:45 p.m.; Engine 31-1 at 7:47 p.m.; Engine 22-1 at 7:48 p.m.; and Rescue 32 at 7:53 p.m.
After completing the supply line to Engine 21-1, Kitchen, Hlewicki, and Kasony reported to the front of the fire building to wait for new orders. Eventually, they were directed to use the thermal imaging camera off Rescue 22 to check for fire extension in the exposure building at 65 J. Russel Smith Road. Ultimately, they found no extension and only a slightly odor of smoke in that home’s attic. After raising Rescue 22’s telescopic light tower to illuminate the fireground, Pangaldi and Wasko were ordered to ventilate the fire building from the inside. They climbed up the stairs to the second floor, where they encountered moderate heat and zero visibility. Pangaldi and Wasko in turn smashed several windows to release all that trapped heat and smoke.
At 7:51 p.m. Lenarski declared the fire under control. Almost immediately, he began releasing some of the unneeded mutual aid units. Rescue 32 was released at 7:57 p.m.; Engine 31-1 was released at 7:59 p.m.; Telesquirt 23 and Ladder Tower 23 were both released at 8:15 p.m.; Squirt 31 and Ladder Tower 31 were released at 8:42 p.m. Once the blaze was clearly under control, Pangaldi and members of Engine 22-1’s crew used the cascade system on Rescue 22 to refill several SCBA bottles. The living room at the front of the first floor of 63 J. Russel Smith Road was destroyed by the fire. A couch that had been alongside the living room’s front window was reduced to a pile of blackened ashes. The remainder of the home sustained extensive heat and smoke damage. The blaze was investigated by Lawrence Township Police Detective William Eggert, Lawrence Township Fire Inspector Dale Robbins, Mercer County Assistant Fire Marshal John Kubilewicz and Wasko (who was the on-call arson detective from the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office).
The investigators concluded that the fire had been caused by a malfunction of Christmas lights that had hung around the front window in the living room. Residents later told investigators that they had left the Christmas lights constantly turned on for more than a week. Engine 22-1 was released from the scene first at 9:03 p.m. Rescue 22 and Engine 22 remained on scene until 10:10 p.m. All Lawrence Road apparatus were in quarters by 10:20 p.m. Slackwood’s apparatus were all back in their station by 10:27 p.m. During the incident, Hamilton’s Engine 14-3 covered Slackwood’s firehouse, Pennington Road’s Engine 32-1 and West Trenton’s Engine 33-1 both covered Lawrence Road’s firehouse, and Pennington’s Ladder Tower 51 covered Lawrenceville’s firehouse.
December 29, 2000
Around 3:45 p.m. on Friday, December 29, 2000, Ellen Dagramo of Merline Avenue went to the Lawrence Road firehouse seeking help for her cat, Fluffy, which was stuck up a tree on Rolfe Avenue, between Merline and Altamawr avenues. Rescue 22 signed on radio at 3:46 p.m. and responded at non-emergency speed to Rolfe Avenue with a crew including Rescue Capt. Chris Longo, Driver Robert Santello, Ff. Michael Byrd and Junior Ff. Joseph Savitsky. Rescue 22’s crew arrived to find the 9-month-old feline perched along a branch about half-way up the tree. The firefighters fully raised a 24-foot extension ladder and Byrd climbed up to retrieve the troublesome tabby. Fluffy was initially uncooperative when Byrd reached for him. But the cat soon gave up all resistance and dug his claws into Byrd’s turnout coat to hang on as he was carried down. Once safely back on the ground, Byrd handed the cat back to his owner, and Rescue 22 returned to quarters by about 4 p.m.