R. R. Crossing Delay Handicaps Firemen
As far as Paterson, N. J., firemen are concerned, Thursday, July 26th, might just as well have been Friday the 13th, with a couple of black cats and broken mirrors thrown in to boot. Early in the evening of that day, a three alarm fire destroyed a textile finishing plant, causing a series of episodes which was climaxed by the death of one fireman and injuries to three others. At 6:20 P.M., Box 636, 2nd Avenue and East 23rd Street, was pulled, and this is where the story begins.
The fire was in a one story brick and frame mill building at 55-61 First Avenue in the Riverside section ot Paterson, directly across the Passaic River from Fair Lawn. The building was occupied by the Apex Dyeing and Finishing Company, a concern engaged in the dyeing and printing of cotton and rayon acetate goods. The company had occupied the building for about six months. On June 21st, another two alarm fire caused considerable damage to the same building, and temporary repair work had been completed only a short time before the second fire broke out. The plant was not in operation and no one was in the structure when the fire started.
All reports indicate that the fire was through the roof before it was discovered. Whoever discovered the firepulled Box 636 not once but three times in succession. At 6:20 P.M. the box was struck and Engines 2, 3, 10 and Truck 3 responded. Engine 2, first due, arrived and lined in as did Engine 10, which had a considerable distance to travel to the fire Engine 3, and 1 ruck 3 however, had to travel over a grade crossing, and both were delayed about four minutes by a passing train. Meanwhile the fire was rapidly eating through the Apex building and threatened the exposed Cambridge Piece Dye Works and Riverside Hotel.
At 6:22, a second alarm was turned in by radio, and at 6:24, a third alarm was ordered. The fire alarm office, however, was unable to transmitt the additional alarms because Box 636 was still hanging away on the register. Dispatchers were forced to use telephones to notify Engines 6, 12 and Truck 2, due in the second alarm, and Engines 5 and 13, due on the 3rd.
As the fire spread, several explosions occurred, as flames reached drums of chemicals. The fire also spread to the Riverside Hotel at 81 First Avenue, where the rear of the building caught fire. Across the river in Fair Lawn, two engines and a truck were called out to patrol the 43 acre Fair Lawn Industries plant which was exposed to flying brands. Fair Lawn and Hawthorne volunteer firemen also went across the river to aid their Paterson brothers.
While responding to the second alarm, the car of Acting Chief James Kennedy, driven by Chief’s Aid Joseph Dow, was struck by another vehicle at Broadway and Madison Avenue. Both men were thrown from the car by the impact, but Dow’s legs caught inside and he was dragged along until the car stopped. Chief Kennedy received head injuries and was treated for shock, then released from the Paterson General Hospital. Dow, however, received a fractured skull and other injuries and died in the hospital three days later. In Chief Kennedy’s absence, Deputy Chief Hobart Strathearn took charge of the fire which was brought under control about 7:30 P.M.
The blaze caused over $200,000 damage to the plant, completely destroying the roof and collapsing one wall. The cause is under investigation by the Paterson Eire and Police Departments and the National Board of Eire Underwriters. The fire was also the latest which demonstrated the need for a fire station in the Eastsidc-Riverside sections of Paterson. At the present time only one engine company is able to respond to these sections without crossing a railroad. City officials have all urged the building of a new station, but some residents persist in their objections, and construction has been held up for over a year.