Mom, her son, 7, die in Park Ave. fire in Nutley

Immediately upon their arrival at 320 Park Ave., Nutley, on a cold, somewhat snowy Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020, firefighters knew this one would be anything but ordinary. One man was already outside the home with burns — and there were immediate reports of two people being trapped on the home’s second floor.

Tragically, those reports were correct — a mother and her son died in this fast-moving fire.

The scanner traffic at the fire revealed an absolute seriousness — yet brave calmness — as a fire lieutenant called for EMS assistance. “Put a push on those ambulances,” he said, sternly.

When all was said and done, another man had suffered burns. He got out alive, however. His daughter and grandson, sadly, did not.

Perhaps the most stark realization of what this fire did came in the form a Facebook post from a neighbor, Joe Caprio, who was in his vehicle right around the time the blaze broke out. His words explained how in an instant, everything changed for one family.

“As I sit here on Park Avenue in Nutley, unable to move my car due to emergency vehicles, I write this post. Today while just going about our lives, Sandra Caprio, Leo Cap and I witnessed one of the most tragic house fires ever. I immediately called 911, got out of my car and started banging on all the windows and doors around the house to see if anyone was home.

“No one was answering until one final moment, when I was trying to kick the front door in, I saw a hand through the window on the door trying to unlock it. An older man emerged covered in soot and burns. He said to me, ‘my grandson (7 year old) and daughter are in there.’

“I looked up the stairs and saw it engulfed with flames. There was nothing I could do. Would a braver man have ran up the stairs, I don’t know… I’m torn. Just as I was wrestling with the idea, the fire department pulled up. I screamed at them that there were people still in there, and I saw them spring into action.

“I helped the man out of the house, and he was obviously in shock. He told me he was preparing breakfast when he noticed smoke from upstairs. He went upstairs and said the fire was in his grandson’s room. He was unable to open the door, not sure why …

“As I helped the man to the ambulance, the fire department ran into the house with a hose. Moments later, the grandmother of the little boy came walking down the street, coming back from the market. Oblivious to everything, she wondered why all the firetrucks were on the street. She then realized it was her house and she just broke into tears. It was a terrible thing to witness.

“The lesson: Anything can happen in our lives at any time. Do not take what you have for granted. You never know when one moment will occur that will change your life forever.”

As it so often does, the Township of Nutley banded together to offer whatever it could for the victims of this hideous tragedy.

Public Safety Commissioner Alphonse Petracco, on behalf of the entire Nutley Board of Commissioners  and Deputy Chief Fire Paul Cafone,  noted the Nutley Fire Department was on scene within minutes, but the fire had already engulfed the upper portion of the house, making rescue attempts very difficult.

Petracco, on scene at the fire, said: “This is an extremely difficult time for our town, having lost two of our residents … our prayers and thoughts go out to the family. As a township, we will offer any support we are able to provide during these difficult days.”

Petracco went on to thank the Nutley Fire Department, both career and volunteer, as well as the Nutley Rescue Squad, for their immediate response to the scene.  In addition, Petracco and Fire Chief Phil Nicolette thanked the ther municipalities who responded for mutual aid at the scene — the Lyndhurst, Bloomfield,  Belleville and North Arlington fire departments — and for standby at the fire department.

Commissioner Maura G. Tucci, meanwhile, took to social media, to commend Caprio for his heroic actions, that more than likely saved a life.

“Joe, don’t second guess your actions, which were nothing short of heroic, you did what you could under extreme circumstances,” Tucci wrote. “Thank God you were there! Our thanks and prayers go out to you, our fire department, all of the other fire departments that assisted and all our first responders. As far as the family is concerned, I’m sure our Nutley community will help any way we can … we are all heartbroken over this tragic loss.”

Caprio has set up a GoFundMe site that has already raised close to $3,000 for the victims’ family at

As of presstime, the fire was under investigation by the Essex County Prosecutors Office. The cause of ignition was not yet known.

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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.