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Major Fires Mar Holy Week in Perth Amboy

By Joe Bayona—

PERTH AMBOY — Holy Week, the week before Easter, was a bad week for fires in Perth Amboy. On Tuesday, March 26th at approximately 3:11 a.m. a fire was reported at 365 Grove St. Responding units found a smoky fire burning in the two story brick structure. “The fire is believed to have started in the windowless basement, produced a tremendous amount of smoke and was hard to fight,” according to fire Chief Dave Volk.

Four firefighters entered the building to search the second floor for extension. Three of them exited, but one became trapped inside. Battalion Chief Tim Simon radioed that he was still inside and couldn’t find his way out. As more firefighters were about to re-enter the building they saw the light of his flashlight in a first floor window and brought a ladder to that window. Simon was able to exit on his own power but he had run out of air in his tank and removed the hose from his regulator. As a result he had inhaled very hot air and smoke. He was flown to St. Barnabas burn unit in very serious condition with inhalation burns. As of this writing he is better but still in St. Barnabas in serious condition.

Two volunteer firefighters were also injured. Thomas Macri and Joe Sepylack were treated and released at Raritan Bay Medical Center for minor injuries.

No civilians were injured in the early morning blaze, but three families were displaced. Two from the first building and one from the building next door at 363 Grove St, which sustained some damage as a result of the fire.

Good Friday was a really busy day. It all began at approximately 10:30 a.m. when Perth Amboy’s fireboat was dispatched for a piling fire at the foot of Commerce St. A fire had erupted in some pilings out in the Arthur Kill just offshore. At 10:40 a.m. fire units were dispatched to 375 Elm St. for a smoke condition which turned out to be a fire in a heating unit. At 11:50 a.m. the trucks rolled again to the foot of Commerce St. for a rekindle of the piling fire.12:30 p.m. Fire trucks responded to a smoky fire in a salvage yard on Second St. Four cars were burning and the smoke from this fire could be seen in South Amboy.

Then at 3:30 p.m. a fire broke out at 688 Westside Ave., one of 11 row houses in that complex. The fire, which is believed to have started in the basement of 688, spread to the outside rear igniting the wooden decks which had been built in the rear of the houses, then spread left and right to four other adjoining structures. “The fire was hard to contain because there were many obstacles in our way,” said Chief Volk. Each yard had fences around them which we had to cut through and there were no roads in the back. NJ Transit train tracks bordered the back of the property. This and the wind added to the difficulty of this stubborn fire.

Units from South Amboy, Sayreville, Colonia, South Plainfield, and Metuchen were called in to fight the blaze. In addition a brush truck from Sayreville had to be called in because the fire had ignited the brush on NJ Transit property.

“In addition to the fire department, 16 police officers were there for traffic and crowd control,” said police Chief Ben Ruiz. “We were lucky that we had extra personal in town to cover the Good Friday processions earlier in the day.”

Assistant director of EMS, Scott Powers, said that there were 2 EMS units and one paramedic unit covering. A rehab unit was called in from Elizabeth. There were four firefighters transported to Raritan Bay Medical Center for minor injuries, treated and released. None of the residents were injured but approximately 40 residents were rendered homeless. 5 of the 11 units were destroyed.

At 4:00 p.m. an alarm went in on Armstrong St. in Harbortown. That turned out to be a malfunction, but at 5:30 p.m. fire units from Avenel, Fords, Metuchen, and Iselin, who were covering the town, were dispatched to 639 State St. for a reported structure fire which turned out to be a fire in a utility room. The fire was quickly extinguished and units cleared within an hour. No injuries were reported at that fire.

All in all is was a busy week for the Perth Amboy Fire Department which just added a new truck to its fleet.

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