Public safety personnel executed a roof-top rescue of two township residents as a fire raged inside their Willow Ave. house early Saturday, police said.
Lyndhurst Police Det. Capt. John Valente gave the following account:
Township police and firefighters were sent to 518 Willow Ave. at about 3:51 a.m. after off-duty Officer Nick Abruscato, who happened to be driving by, saw smoke coming from the one-family home and called headquarters.
Police units arriving shortly afterward observed heavy fire and smoke at the residence which had prompted two occupants to climb out a second floor window and on to a lower roof, Valente said.
Those occupants, a 45-yearold man and 35-year-old woman, warned the officers that the building’s owner, 64, could still be inside, on the first floor.
At that point, Police Sgt. Andrew Marmorato and Fire Chief Paul Haggerty deployed a police department rescue ladder and helped the couple off the roof, leading them to safety.
At the same time, Officers Abruscato and Joseph White tried to get into the basement and first floor to search for the owner but they couldn’t penetrate the heavy smoke and fire conditions. However, it was quickly determined that the owner was not in the building.
The occupants told their rescuers they were awakened by the smell of smoke and tried to get out via interior stairs, intending to rouse the owner, but were turned aside by heavy smoke. They then called 911 to report the fire while climbing on to the roof. Both were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation and taken to Hackensack University Medical Center by Lyndhurst EMS for observation. Upon their release, the couple were sheltered by a friend, Chief Haggerty said.
Police located the owner elsewhere in the township and escorted him home where, after learning that his three cats had perished in the fire, became distraught and was transported by EMS to Clara Maass Medical Center, Belleville, for evaluation. He is now staying with his brother, the fire chief said.
Some 45 volunteer firefighters from Lyndhurst and the North Arlington Volunteer Fire Department’s FAST Team, quickly quelled the blaze as personnel from Rutherford and East Rutherford Fire Departments stood by at the Lyndhurst Firehouse.
“It took about five minutes to knock down the fire and we declared it under control in about 15 minutes,” Chief Haggerty said. But without the quick action by fire personnel, it could have been a lot worse. “A potential tragedy was definitely averted,” he added.
No injuries were reported.
Following an inspection of the premises, the township Building Department declared the building uninhabitable.
Chief Haggerty estimated that the fire destroyed 75% of the basement and first floor of the building which, he said, dates from the 1920s. “It took the whole first floor living room,” he added.
The fire’s cause and origin was being investigated by Lyndhurst Police Det. Vincent Auteri and Fire Official Bob Ferrara. It may have started in the basement but that is only a preliminary determination and the investigation is continuing, Valente said.
– Ron Leir