By Ron Jeffers
Fire raced through the top-floor and roof of a five-story, ordinary, “H”-shaped apartment house in the city of Passaic, New Jersey. The fire started shortly before 9 p.m., sending residents running to the street for safety and putting numerous fire departments in the area to work.
A full assignment was dispatched to 280 Gregory Avenue for a report of a fire in a fifth-floor apartment, with numerous phone calls being received by fire dispatch. Battalion Chief Lou Sanchez observed the fire condition and size of the structure and transmitted a second alarm upon arrival. That was shortly followed by a third alarm. The building contained some 60 apartments.
Interior crews advanced handlines to the top floor and knocked down some fire, but flames were already above them in the ceiling and through the roof. Conditions rapidly deteriorated and an evacuation order was sounded, as master streams were set up. The building is located at the corner of Broadway, and master streams quickly covered the “A” and “D” sides as well as a ladder pipe on the “C” side, set up in a lot. A P.A.R. was conducted and all members were accounted for. In addition, a collapse zone was established.
Huge flames and black smoke covered the sky as news helicopters converged over Passaic, and a large Rite Aid parking lot opposite the front of the building filled with residents, spectators, and eventually emergency vehicles.
Flames traveled from the wing on the Broadway side and spread across the entire structure. Master streams pounded the flames which included a Passaic tower ladder, plus ladder pipes from Passaic and Pompton Lakes on Gregory Avenue, A Passaic ladder pipe and deck gun on Broadway, and a Clifton ladder pipe and Wayne tower working the “C” side. In addition, East Rutherford’s tower was at the corner of Gregory and Broadway. After its initial operation, Clifton Ladder 3 was repositioned out of the established collapse zone.
Fellow firefighters at the scene said two city members were injured and taken to a local hospital. One had suffered a neck burn and one was injured when a portion of the ceiling fell on him. There were no reports of injured residents, many of whom were reported to be senior citizens. Residents were sent to a nearby school and the Red Cross was called in for aid. Rehab and EMS areas were set up in the Rite Aid parking lot. Rehab was assigned to the Moonachie Ambulance Squad and the Teaneck Box 54 canteen truck also provided refreshments.
In all, eight-alarms were sounded bringing in numerous fire companies from Passaic and southern Bergen County to the scene. After midnight, crews re-entered the building to knock-down heavy fire still flaring inside apartments. The fire was declared under control at 2:23 a.m. by Chief of Department Patrick Trentacost.
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