Photos and article by Ron Jeffers
It’s not that unusual for commuters on the state’s northern highways to see a column of smoke rise from the Paterson (NJ) area. New Jersey’s third-largest city has a heavy fire load and a very busy fire department. A huge black column was visible on the sunny morning of August 24, 2019 as flames consumed a block-long mill building owned by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Paterson.
The alarm was sounded at 11 a.m. and responding fire units saw smoke rising as they rolled in to the reported address of 410 Straight Street. Smoke was showing from the roof area upon arrival of first-due units. Further investigation revealed that there was a heavy fire load throughout the three-story structure.
It didn’t take long for flames to vent out of numerous windows on all floors as a defensive operation was initiated and a collapse zone established. Second and third alarms were quickly transmitted. Master streams were set up, which included Paterson’s two tower ladders, plus a ladder pipe operation from Passaic. In all, five alarms were sounded, bringing mutual aid companies to the scene.
During the early stages of the fire, portions of the structure began to collapse. Overhead power lines fell into the streets and some on apparatus. An estimated 300 people living in the area were temporarily displaced. Many watched the flames consume the building from street corners. The heat from the fire melted the sidings and satellite dishes of nearby dwellings. At the time of a collapse, fire officials said a 300-pound drum flew into the sky.
Burning embers covered the neighborhood and police closed of a three-block area from the fire building. Mutual aid companies responded to a fire on the roof of a dialysis building at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center a few blocks away. Wood along an overhead bridge also burned, summoning a mutual aid pumper from Haledon.
The building housed one of the state’s largest drug and alcohol counseling centers, according to Monsignor James Maloney. In addition, 50 people were housed in the old industrial building. Victims were taken to School 21 and assisted by city officials and the American Red Cross.
After the structural collapses, firefighters continued to wet down the debris for hours and they maintained a fire watch overnight. As the rubble burned, Chief of Department Brian Mc Dermott was making preparations to have the remains demolished.
Miraculously, there were no reported injuries to occupants or firefighters.
“You’ve got to commend our fire department,” Mayor Andre Sayegh said.
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