Calling it a miracle that nobody was seriously hurt in a fire that gutted a four story building, Councilman Richard Boggiano is seeking donations of clothing and other necessities for 14 people the April 23 blaze left homeless.
Sheriff’s Officer Michael Babiak first observed heavy smoke rolling out of a building at 34 Gray St. at about 11:30 p.m. on April 23. Gray Street is a narrow east-west street populated with a mix of new and older residences, a few blocks from Montgomery Street and a block from the Hudson County Administration building which houses the sheriff’s department offices.
Babiak and his partner, Officer Timothy Balance, drove to the building and saw multiple individuals exiting the building. The officers were stationed at the sheriff’s department office on Cornelison Avenue, slightly over a block away from the fire site.
After alerting the fire department, the pair helped to rescue 14 residents from the building. Boggiano said the fire could have otherwise resulted in injury or death.
One of the people running out told them a mother was still inside so they entered the building. The woman they sought came out as they were entering, but they continued in to help evacuate the rest of the residents. As they searched the building, they encountered heavy smoke conditions. They forced open a basement door where they found a man sleeping. With the assistance of Sheriff Officers Andres Belmonte and Daniel Rivera (not related to the city councilman), they got the man out.
Sheriff’s Officer Jennifer Venaglia arrived and helped search the building for more residents, but the smoke was so thick it became unsafe for them to continue.
Although the officers completed the evacuation of remaining residents and later helped with crowd control as the fire department fought the blaze, they were eventually brought to Jersey City Medical Center to be treated for smoke inhalation, along with one adult resident and two children.
It could have been worse
Boggiano believes if not for their intervention, the injuries would have been much worse, possibly deadly.
“It was a terrible fire,” he said. “They are lucky to be alive.”
While the cause of fire is still under investigation, local officials believe it may be been caused by a heater located on the first floor.
The blaze effectively gutted the building.
Firefighters fought the blaze for several hours, hampered by the fact that the roof was weakened by recent renovations that allegedly may have been improperly done, officials said.
Councilman Daniel Rivera said the while sheriff’s officers were in the right place at the right time, and knew what to do, the efficiency of the fire department resulted in a quick response to the scene.
“I am grateful to and proud of the heroic efforts of these sheriff’s officers. Too often lately, those in law enforcement find themselves being criticized and second guessed.” – Bill O’Dea
While several displaced residents returned to the building later to recover some possessions, they are apparently in need of a number of basic articles.
Boggiano said the American Red Cross is currently assisting these family members, but he hopes to get people to donate other things until the families can make additional arrangements.
“Anyone interested in helping them should contact my office in city hall,” he said.
The Hudson County Freeholders and Hudson County Sheriff Frank Schillari honored the officers for their efforts at a ceremony this week.
“I am grateful to and proud of the heroic efforts of these sheriff’s officers,” said Freeholder Bill O’Dea. “Too often lately, those in law enforcement find themselves being criticized and second guessed. It’s nice to be able to give them a well deserved pat on the back.”
Bayonne Freeholder Kenneth Kopacz noted that four of the five officers involved with the rescue were Bayonne residents, some of whom have been involved in school, sports and civic activities for years.
“It’s nice to know what Bayonne produces people like this, it is truly the home of the brave,” Kopacz said.
Sheriff Frank Schillari said his officers often do their duty without recognition, and that the tribute by the freeholders was very welcome.
“These officers ran in when other people were running out,” Schillari said. “This is my seventh year as sheriff, and my top priority has always been public safety.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.