By Kevin Canessa
A man and one of his eight dogs died in a fire at 422 Forest St., Kearny, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, authorities said.
Fire Chief Steven Dyl said Kevin Olsen, 66, was pronounced dead at St. Barnabas Hospital’s Burn Unit in Livingston several hours after the noontime blaze.
Dyl said the first call of fire came in at 11:50 a.m. A second alarm was declared at 11:56 a.m.
The victim was found on the floor of a first-floor room.
It wasn’t easy, Dyl said, to get Olsen out of the building because of a narrow hallway. Firefighters had a hose line inside to knock the fire down in the hallway that was estimated to be less that 5-feet wide.
Once Olsen, who was home alone when the fire broke out, was brought outside, EMS officials decided the best course of action was to fly him, by chopper, to St. Barnabas Hospital.
As such, he was taken, by ambulance, from Forest St. a few blocks away to the Gunnell Oval off Schuyler Ave., where the Jersey City Fire Department was on scene to assist transferring him onto the helicopter that had landed on one of the fields.
“The guys on scene did everything they could to help Mr. Olsen,” Dyl said.
Firefighters also helped to remove eight dogs from the home.
One canine died of cardiac arrest at the scene. Three were treated with oxygen and survived. Four others were not injured at all. The seven surviving dogs were all transported — by animal control and by the Kearny Police Department — to the Arlington Dog & Cat Hospital on Passaic Ave., Kearny, for observation.
For this reporter, covering this story was different than any other fire I’ve covered in 25+ years as a journalist. At the time of the fire, I had no idea who lived at 422 Forest St. And it wasn’t until about six hours after the fire that I learned that the Olsens lived there.
The victim, Kevin, was a good friend of my father’s, going back to their days in Jersey City. Though I hadn’t seen Kevin since I was a wee lad, he and I had a rekindled relationship thanks to Facebook. He was certainly opinionated. He was very happy on Election Day 2016.
Even later that same day, I let my mom, Margaret Canessa, and my uncle, Mike Slane, know about Olsen’s horrifying death. I was surprised to learn Kevin’s wife, Toni — whom I met in person at The Observer office just a few month ago — was a classmate of mom’s at Dickinson High School, Jersey City.
I was equally surprised to learn Uncle Mike and Olsen — also good friends going back to their Jersey City days — had penciled in plans for Olsen to fly out to visit and stay at his home in Carlsbad, Calif., for a few weeks. Sadly, those plans will never come to fruition.
Ask any journalist and they’ll probably tell you … covering fires is a most important part of the job. I’ve covered hundreds of them since 1992 when I was a 17-year-old high school senior working as a stringer at a Hudson County daily newspaper. Nothing could have prepared me for learning, for the first time in my career, that I knew the victim.
What I do know is that Kevin Olsen was a great man. We didn’t agree on much. But that never mattered. And it comes as no surprise that a woman called Angelina Tedesco, once a student at Olsen’s wife Toni’s dance studio, set up a GoFundMe fundraiser for the Olsen family.
They lost Kevin. They lost one of their dogs. They lost nearly all of their possessions.
As of Monday, Dec. 4, $9,470 has been raised. You can donate at www.gofundme.com/help-misstoni.
Olsen is survived by his wife, Toni; sons Shaun, Christopher and Ryan; a sister Christine; and grandchildren Karyn and Gavin.
As of Monday, Dec. 4, the cause of the fire remains under investigation.