After fire kills toddler, mayor targets response time

Claims squad took 40 minutes to put water on blaze

The Sts. Joseph and Michael Church in Union City, after a four-alarm fire damaged it. Photo credit: Victor M. Rodriguez
The Sts. Joseph and Michael Church in Union City, after a four-alarm fire damaged it. Photo credit: Victor M. Rodriguez

After a nearly-2-year-old boy died in a fire on Summit Avenue last Saturday, Mayor Brian Stack complained that it took the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue squad over 40 minutes to put water on the blaze.
The fire began around 1 a.m. at 1404 Summit Ave. High winds blew the embers around, causing the blaze to spread to neighboring buildings and Michael Church on Central Avenue and 14th Street.
Despite his father’s efforts to get him out, Eddie Gonzalez Jr., who was nearly 2 years old, perished. His father, Eddie Gonzalez Sr., was transported to St. Barnabas Medical Center in critical but stable condition. The family lived at 1404 Summit. Eddie Jr.’s mother, Aaliyah Mercado, was taken to Hoboken University Medical Center, where she was treated and released. Their two young daughters were unharmed.
More than 50 families were displaced by the fire, and are currently receiving Red Cross assistance.
After the blaze, Union City Mayor and State Sen. Brian Stack criticized the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue’s response time, and said the Secaucus Volunteer Fire Department got to the fire before the NHRFR, which has a fire house a few blocks away from the site of the fire. The NHRFR serves five towns.
“My criticism has to do with the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue administration, not the firefighters.” –Brian Stack
Stack claimed last week that it took more than 40 minutes for the NHRFR to get water on the fire.
In a press release, officials said that the fire’s size and weather conditions impacted their response.
“Upon becoming aware of the second fire at the church, NHRFR redirected personnel to the scene from the Summit Avenue fire, called additional alarms and requested mutual aid, making every effort to respond as quickly as possible,” the release said.
“This was a defensive fire and the first priority in this case was containing it to the area and protecting other residences, especially in the difficult conditions that were present that night. Firefighters had to manage high wind conditions and large embers being blown into neighboring roofs and yards and had to confront the risk of the wooden church steeple collapsing, which did occur.”
Department spokesman Phil Swibinski said that the response time is “something that’s being reviewed, as part as the overall investigation.”

Both sides

North Hudson also said they arrived there before Secaucus.
A fire house is located roughly four blocks east and two blocks north of the house, at 1600 New York Ave.
North Hudson’s statement added that “Ladder 5 and Squad 7 responded to the church fire and were the first to deploy water onto the roof. They were assisted later by the Secaucus Volunteer Fire Department and the Jersey City Fire Department.”
Swibinski said, “Obviously, it was a very chaotic scene. It’s very possible there could be some confusion. But the information that we have shows that North Hudson Ladder 5 and Squad 7 were the first to arrive.”
Fire departments from Hoboken and even New York City sent assistance.
Stack said last week that he was on the scene of the blaze. “My criticism has to do with the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue administration, not the firefighters,” he said.
How to help
The Red Cross opened a shelter for the families at the Jose Marti Freshman Academy at 1800 Summit Ave. Commenting on the tragedy in a press release, Stack said, “It is absolutely devastating. The loss the parents of this little boy are experiencing is unimaginable and truly heartbreaking. We all will hold our loved ones a little tighter tonight, having heard the news of this tragedy.”
Stack offered to fund Eddie Jr.’s funeral costs through his Civic Association. But Eddie’s aunt also has set up a GoFundMe to help pay the funeral costs, at As of Wednesday, $29, 614 had been raised.
Any check or money order donations for displaced families can be made payable to the Union City Fire Victims’ Fund. The address is 3715 Palisade Avenue, 3rd Floor, Union City, NJ, 07087.
Hannington Dia can be reached at