By Ron Leir
Firefighters dragged a Harrison man out of his burning Central Ave. apartment last Wednesday after he’d apparently collapsed, according to neighbors and fire officials.
As of last week, Adam Wojciechowski, 42, was listed in critical condition at the Burn Center at St. Barnabas Hospital, Livingston, reported Harrison Fire Director Harold Stahl.
Fire Capt. John Dwyer, incident commander at the scene, said firefighters from Harrison, Kearny and East Newark went to the Central Park Condominiums, 550 Central Ave., off Davis Ave., at 8:17 a.m., soon after fire alarms had sounded inside the 55-unit apartment complex.
Dwyer said the fire was in Apt. 22, a three-room apartment with a balcony on the second floor.
“Because of a potentially backdraft situation, the firefighters attack on the fire was done from inside the building,” Dwyer said. He credited Fire Lt. Joe Lang, Acting Lt. Dave Prina and Firefighters William McMahon, Joe Zicchinella and Robert Underhill with “coordinating the attack, executing a primary search (and assisting with) ladder, venting the fire scene.”
Then, Dwyer said, the Harrison group – with help from Kearny and East Newark firefighters – “rescued the victim and delivered him to advanced life support teams who were waiting outside to give him treatment.”
“We want to thank Kearny and East Newark for providing mutual aid,” Dwyer said. Prina said, “We went in initially with four men through the front entrance, up to the second floor and myself and Joe Lang forced entry to the door to the apartment where the fire was.” However, Town Fire Director Harold Stahl countered that, “Our initial response was six men plus three men later with the change in shift.”
Once inside, the group vented the intense heat in the apartment by opening bedroom windows, Prina said. “The smoke was so thick, you couldn’t see anything,” he added.
Meanwhile, the victim’s mother – who lives in another apartment in the complex – “was screaming that he was in there,” he said.
By that time, a second crew of firefighters mounted a ladder to climb in through the balcony.
After locating the man, who was lying on his back in the bedroom, the firefighters dragged him to the balcony to try and revive him with a respirator unit “and he was breathing at the time,” Prina said.
With the help of some of the out-of-town fire personnel, firefighters lifted the man – described as 6-foot-3 and between 240 and 250 pounds – into a fire rescue vinyl gear bag and carried him downstairs to safety.
The fire was extinguished quickly and confined to the one apartment, Dwyer said. The fire-rated sheetrock walls in the apartment helped contain the flames and smoke and prevent it from spreading to other parts of the building, he said.
However, everything in the victim’s apartment was a total loss, with the fire having charred its walls and ceilings, Dwyer said.
Several pet birds that the victim kept in the apartment perished in the fire, Dwyer said.
Neighbor Sergio Scomparin said that Wojciechowski had three parakeets, two cockateils and a kitten.
Scomparin said he and Wojciechowski had gone to East Newark elementary school and Harrison High School together. “We both grew up on John Street (in East Newark),” he said.
Scomparin, a Harrison public school gym teacher, said Wojciechowski did construction work in New York. “He’s a nice all-around guy,” he added. The fire victim’s downstairs neighbor, Cynthia LaGrace, said that the night before the fire, Wojciechowski was “partying” until “5 or 6 (a.m.) …
You could hear him singing.” A few hours later, LaGrace said, “I was up having my tea when I heard (Wojciewchowski) fall. It felt like a human body had just dropped. Then the fire alarms went off. The police officers were around first, then East Newark, Harrison and Kearny firefighters. They brought (Wojciewchowski) out on some type of stretcher.”
This isn’t the first time Wojciewchowski has run up against trouble in his life: The New Jersey State Police web site lists the Harrison man on its Megan’s Law Sex Offender Registry. On Sept. 11, 1997, he was convicted of endangering the welfare of a female child under age 18 in Cape May. “Registrant threatened victim with a meat cleaver to sexually assault victim regularly over the course of five weeks,” the listing says.