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Thread: 3 NEW JERSEY FIREFIGHTERS KILLED

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    3 NEW JERSEY FIREFIGHTERS KILLED

    Three Firefighters, At Least Two Kids Dead in New Jersey House Fire

    Associated Press

    GLOUCESTER CITY, N.J. (AP) -- Fire broke out in a three-story duplex early Thursday, killing at least two children and three firefighters trying to rescue them, authorities said. Another child, a sibling of the two who died, was missing.


    The blaze broke out around 1:30 a.m., hours after marchers in Gloucester City's Fourth of July parade passed by the house. The fire was being investigated as a criminal incident, although there was no evidence it had been set, authorities said.

    The roof of the building collapsed, trapping eight firefighters, but five escaped, Acting Camden County Prosecutor James P. Lynch said.

    The children's mother was taken to Crozier-Chester Burn Center in Chester, Pa., said Greg Reinert, a spokesman for the Camden County prosecutor's office. Her condition was not immediately available.

    Ten other people, including eight firefighters, were taken to Cooper Hospital-University Medical Center in Camden, where they were being treated for unspecified injuries.

    The identities of the victims were not immediately available, but authorities said the three children were siblings.

    The three firefighters who died had been looking for the children when the home's roof collapsed on them, Reinert said.

    Independence Day festivities in the town of 11,000 residents have been canceled because of the fire, Acting Camden County Prosecutor Jim Dale said.

    Gloucester City is about five miles south of Philadelphia

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    3 Sisters and 3 Firefighters Die as Roof Collapses in Blaze
    By RICHARD LEZIN JONES

    GLOUCESTER CITY, N.J., July 4

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    Gloucester N.J. City blaze

    3 firefighters and 3 sisters perish after roof collapses during Gloucester City blaze


    Friday, July 05, 2002


    BY MARGARET McHUGH AND IVELISSE DeJESUS
    Star-Ledger Staff

    A three-story duplex in Gloucester City caught fire and collapsed early yesterday, killing 3-year-old twin girls, their 5-year-old sister and three firefighters who were trying to save them.

    One of the victims, a 30-year-old city fireman, had proposed to his girlfriend on a firetruck at a Fourth of July fireworks display only hours before the blaze started. City firefighters had passed directly in front of the duplex on North Broadway at Mercer Street Wednesday night during a pre-holiday parade.





    Eight firefighters initially were trapped inside the collapsed building, but five were dug out by their colleagues. All eight had remained inside the duplex after an evacuation alarm sounded when it appeared a collapse was imminent. Seven other firemen heeded the alarm and left.

    The dead firemen were identified as Thomas Stewart, 30, of the Gloucester City department, and two volunteer firefighters from neighboring Mount Ephraim, Chief James Sylvester, 31, and Deputy Chief John West, 41.

    The children's mother was taken to the Crozer-Chester Burn Center in Chester, Pa., where a nursing supervisor said she was in critical but stable condition last night. A man escaped the blaze, police and fire officials said, but they declined to release his identity last night. The family's name was being withheld until relatives could be notified of the sisters' deaths.

    Neighbors said the family had rented one unit of the duplex for less than a year. The tenants of the second unit were not at home when the fire broke out.

    The cause of the blaze, which began shortly after 1:30 a.m., remains under investigation.

    The commotion awakened neighbors, some of whom got outside in time to watch the house collapse.

    "I couldn't believe my eyes; it was horrible," said Elizabeth Ruszkai, a 31-year city resident.

    Next door neighbor Bill Dieterich, 20, got his whole family out just as firefighters arrived. He saw a woman standing on the roof of the burning house, trying to get back inside.

    "She was burned bad. The firefighters kept telling her to jump, that someone would catch her. But she was screaming, 'My babies are in there! My babies are in there!'"

    Firefighters got the woman out before the building collapsed, about 25 minutes after fire companies arrived. When it looked as if the building was about to fall, an evacuation order sounded -- a three-tone alert that aired on all firefighter radios and trucks.

    "Kids were in there and they wanted to get to them," said Bob Saunders, the city's emergency management coordinator. But two minutes after the evacuation order sounded, the roof collapsed, trapping eight firefighters inside. Two of the five surviving firefighters were caught in a small crevice created when a wall collapsed on a sofa, said Saunders. That probably saved their lives, he said.

    "They were buried. Parts of them were stuck," said city Fire Chief William Glassman.

    It took about 30 minutes for colleagues to dig them out, and they walked away, Saunders said. The three who died were found only a few feet away from them. Saunders said he didn't know if they had fallen from an upper floor in the collapse.

    Gov. James E. McGreevey visited the fire scene in the morning and pledged to provide college tuition aid to the children of the dead firefighters, who he said had "made the supreme sacrifice." West had three young children and Sylvester's wife is expecting their first child.

    To go into a burning building takes "just a tremendous, tremendous amount of valor on their part," said State Police Sgt. 1st Class Keith Dreher.

    More than 200 firefighters responded to the fire, coming from the city and other surrounding towns.

    The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms sent members of one of its national response teams, which are normally reserved for national catastrophes, according to Mark Chait, assistant special agent in charge of ATF's Philadelphia field office.

    But Chait said firefighter Stewart had an ATF-trained canine who worked closely with the national response team.

    "This is closer to us than normal situations," Chait said.

    Stewart had been off-duty, but like other firefighters from the area, responded to the two-alarm call. He was a lifelong resident of the Camden County city and a graduate of Gloucester Catholic High School.

    Stewart followed in his father's footsteps, serving as a volunteer firefighter before becoming a member of the city's paid department while in his early 20s.

    "It's a family tradition," said his aunt, Barbara Kell.

    During the Fourth of July festivities Wednesday night, Stewart had proposed to his longtime girlfriend, Danielle Ruggierio, with whom he had a 15-month-old son. Stewart had climbed atop one of his department's firetrucks, which had been rolled out to the middle of the high school field where the fireworks were going to be held. Awash in floodlights, he proposed to Ruggierio and she accepted.

    Kell described her nephew as a "good kid" who loved being a firefighter.

    "I don't think anyone just does this. ... It's not just a job." she said.

    "He was just a wonderful kid," said Carol Ruggierio, Danielle's mother. "He was so good to her. Just a nice person. He was here to help everybody whenever they need it."

    The fire was put out shortly after 5 a.m., and rescuers used backhoes to clear debris while they searched for victims. When a firefighter's body was removed about 8 a.m., police and firefighters lined up several rows deep and saluted.

    Gloucester City, chartered in 1623, has 11,500 residents and is the oldest municipality in New Jersey. It is an aging riverfront city and former home of shipyards just south of the Walt Whitman bridge about five miles from Philadelphia. Much of its housing stock was built in the 19th century. The building that burned is believed to have been that old.

    "It's an extremely tough day for our community," said Mayor Bob Gorman.

    Yesterday's Independence Day festivities in Gloucester City and Mount Ephraim were canceled.

    The firefighter deaths were the first in 38 years in Gloucester City, which has 26 paid firemen and 45 volunteers. Mount Ephraim, which has 65 volunteers, had not had a fireman killed since 1977.

    In the aftermath of the fire, the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey called for an investigation of the blaze by the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety. The organization also said it would ask the Governor to impanel a task force to study statewide fire company staffing, training and equipment.



    Staff writer Rudy Larini and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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    S. Jersey House Blaze

    3 firemen, 3 sisters die in S. Jersey house blaze
    Friday, July 05, 2002

    By GEOFF MULVIHILL
    The Associated Press



    Firefighters in Gloucester City digging through rubble at a house fire in search of comrades' remains. (AP)

    GLOUCESTER CITY - Three young sisters and three firefighters who tried to save them died Thursday in an early morning house fire that turned a small town's Fourth of July into a day of mourning.

    Less than seven hours before fire broke out in the brown 2

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    Dead Firefighters Praised as Heroes

    Dead firefighters praised as heroes who loved job
    Friday, July 05, 2002

    By RUSSELL CONTRERAS
    The Associated Press


    GLOUCESTER CITY - The three veteran firefighters who died in a burning house Thursday were hailed as heroes and remembered as good men who loved fighting fires.

    One played softball, another's wife was expecting the couple's first child, and the third engaged in a momentous public display of affection.

    Thomas G. Stewart III used the PA system on a firetruck Wednesday to propose to Danielle Ruggiero in front of the cheering crowd gathered at Gloucester City High School to watch the Independence Day fireworks.

    "He just did the typical one-knee thing and he proposed to her," said Ray Williams, 18, a Gloucester City resident who saw the romantic moment.

    She accepted.

    About 12 hours later, his colleagues were pulling Stewart's body from the debris of a burned building.

    The blaze broke out in 2

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    South Jersey Fire Claims Six Lives

    South Jersey fire claims six lives



    Published in the Asbury Park Press 7/05/02
    By FRANK KUMMER
    and TOM LOUNSBERRY
    STAFF WRITERS
    GLOUCESTER CITY -- A day of celebration became a time for citywide mourning yesterday when a predawn blaze caused a duplex to collapse, killing three firefighters and three young sisters trapped in the pile of burning rubble.

    Later, scores of emergency workers stared at the charred, jumbled remains of the three-story, wood-frame duplex on Broadway. It was the deadliest blaze for firefighters in New Jersey in more than a decade.

    "It's just real tough to lose a friend and see two other men lose their lives," said Jeff Sanderson, a 21-year-old volunteer city firefighter, who was weary and red-eyed by midmorning. "Those three guys devoted their lives to this. They did everything they could to get those kids out."

    Katia "Tia" Williamson, the mother of the three girls who died -- twin 3-year-olds and a 5-year-old -- was hospitalized in critical but stable condition last night at Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Upland, Pa. Eight injured firefighters were treated at Cooper Hospital/University Medical Center, Camden.

    The cause of the blaze remained under investigation last night; there was no immediate sign of foul play. Officials said a stretch of Broadway would remain closed until authorities are finished combing through the scene for clues.

    Neighbors and firefighters at the scene on Broadway -- the main thoroughfare of this South Jersey city on the Delaware River -- said they were stunned by the ferocity of the blaze and how quickly the building collapsed on top of those trapped inside.

    Flames streamed to the street as the home fell. Sparks shot from electrical lines as debris tumbled. One firefighter was blown to the ground, but he quickly recovered.

    The fire, which started about 1:30 a.m., was so intense that it melted the siding off a pizzeria across Mercer Street.


    Hundreds battle blaze
    Hundreds of firefighters from three South Jersey counties and Philadelphia had to be relieved by morning, when the temperature already was 90 degrees, so they wouldn't suffer heat exhaustion.
    "It was a terrible, tragic morning," said acting Camden County Prosecutor James Lynch.

    The three firefighters killed in the collapse, who had a combined 47 years of service to their departments, were:


    Thomas G. Stewart III, 30, a paid member of the city Fire Department. He had publicly proposed to his girlfriend hours before.

    Mount Ephraim Fire Chief James E. Sylvester, 31. The volunteer firefighter and his wife, Marilyn, were expecting their first child next month.

    Mount Ephraim Deputy Fire Chief John D. West, 40, a volunteer firefighter who also was chief investigator for the Camden County Fire Marshal's Office.
    Fourth of July parades in both Gloucester City and Mount Ephraim were canceled as the two communities grieved. A brief prayer service was held at St. Mary's Church in late morning.

    Little information was released about the children, who neighbors said were twin girls and their older sister. The girls, who had moved in with their mother less than a year ago, often stood on the corner of Broadway and Mercer Street, waving to cars and asking them to honk their horns.

    They opened a lemonade stand for thirsty passers-by last week.

    Residents were awakened in the predawn hours on what would become the hottest day of the year so far to the smell of thick smoke and sounds of children screaming. The fire started at 200 Broadway and raced to the adjoining home, 202.

    City firefighters were dispatched at 1:36 a.m. and arrived less than three minutes later, responding to the first of eight alarms. Many of those same firefighters has passed by the home hours earlier during the city's Fourth of July parade.

    By that time, the tan duplex was already fully engulfed in flames, city Fire Department spokesman Robert Saunders said. Flames shot from the first- and second-story windows, he said.

    Less than 30 minutes into the blaze, a team of firefighters was sent inside to search for people. The team managed to rescue Williamson through a rear door, but her three girls remained inside.

    While eight firefighters were still in the house, part of the building collapsed. An emergency evacuation was declared and was in progress when the event turned catastrophic, as the entire structure began to fall while firefighters were stranded on different floors throughout the home.


    New tactics
    The rescuers drastically changed their tactics at that point.
    Orders were given to stop pouring water on the fire for fear it that would push smoke and gases down into the building, instead of up and away from the trapped men and children.

    "Once we determined their possible location it took us about 20 to 30 minutes to get the five survivors out," city Fire Chief Bill Glassman said.

    By then the fire was burning out of control.

    By 6 a.m., workers were using the claws of massive excavating equipment to pick through remains to locate bodies. Occasionally, flames would flare up.

    Shortly after that, the bodies of the three firefighters were located; it took about 20 or 25 minutes to remove them.

    The State Police arson unit, the Camden County Prosecutor's Office and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are handling the fire investigation because the victims included firefighters, but there's no indication that a crime occurred, authorities said.

    The head of the state firefighters union is calling for a full investigation to see whether Fire Department understaffing contributed to the tragedy.

    Staff writers Mike Daniels, Jason Nark and Bill Shralow contributed to this story.

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    Gloucester City FD News Release

    Three Firefighters, Three Kids Killed in Gloucester City, NJ
    Collapse Traps Eight Firefighters During Fire Attack, Rescue Operation

    CHIEF WILLIAM J. GLASSMAN
    Gloucester City FD News Release

    On 4 July 2002 at 0136 hrs. the Gloucester City Fire Department was dispatched to 200 North Broadway for a reported house fire. Responding units were advised that occupants may be trapped

    First arriving units were on location in less than three minutes. They found heavy fire on all exposures of a three-story multi-family dwelling and initiated a search for entrapped occupants. (Various reports from bystanders were at times conflicting regarding the number and location of victims)

    While providing an aggressive interior attack and rescue operation, an occupant was rescued from the dwelling. Due to the severity of their injuries they were unable to give direction regarding the whereabouts of any other occupants.

    While all hands were operating by continuing an aggressive interior attack and rescue, a partial collapse of the structure occurred. An emergency evacuation signal was sounded and while that was commencing a further and much more substantial collapse occurred trapping eight firefighters inside the burning debris.


    AP Photo/ Brian Branch-Price
    Firefighters search for the remains of a fallen comrade during a blaze in Goucester City, N.J., Thursday, July 4, 2002.

    The Victims

    Thomas G. Stewart, III, who has just proposed to his girlfriend, Gloucester City FD

    Chief James E. Sylvester, Mount Ephraim FD

    Deputy Chief John D. West, Mount Ephraim FD


    Additional specialized collapse rescue resources were requested, firefighter accountability was initiated and rescue efforts were intensified. Five of the eight trapped firefighters were rescued. Three of the eight gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to their fellow man

    As of this report we have recovered all of our fallen comrades as well as all of the reported missing children. Unfortunately these three children did not survive.

    Although immediate family has been notified, we wish all involved to respect the families at this time as they make personal notifications to their extended families. We will release information once we get the approval of all involved.

    A total of nine victims were transported to area hospitals, one civilian and eight firefighters. All firefighters were treated and released and the civilian was transferred from Cooper Hospital-University Medical Center Trauma Center to Crozier-Chester Medical Center Burn Unit.

    A short prayer service was held at St. Mary

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    Gloucester City Blaze

    Posted on Thu, Jul. 04, 2002

    Three children, three firefighters die in Gloucester City blaze
    By Dwight Ott, Elisa Ung, Kaitlin Gurney and Kristen A. Graham
    Inquirer Staff Writers



    GLOUCESTER CITY - The six deaths came in the worst way, just hours after a joyous pre-July Fourth celebration: three small children killed, three firefighters lost trying to rescue them from an early-morning house fire.

    They came early today after one of those firefighters, Thomas Stewart III, 30, of Gloucester City, ascended a ladder during the festivities Wednesday and proposed to his girlfriend over a public-address system.

    They sent two close-knit Camden County towns into mourning, for Mount Ephraim's two top-ranking volunteer firefighters died in the fire - Chief James Sylvester, 31, whose wife was expecting their first child next month, and Deputy Chief John West, 41, a Camden County fire marshal with three young children.

    And they reverberated throughout a region where many towns were celebrating the first Independence Day after Sept. 11 with parades honoring rescue workers.

    "Today is an example of courage, selflessness, and the supreme sacrifice," said Gov. McGreevey, who visited the scene this morning. U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine was there later.

    McGreevey said the state will fund the college educations of the firefighters' children.

    The fire is being investigated by the New Jersey State Police arson unit and the Camden County Prosecutor's Office.

    It was among the largest local losses of firefighters' lives: the One Meridian Plaza fire of 1991 in Center City Philadelphia killed three firefighters, and in 1975, eight died in a Gulf Oil refinery blaze in the city.

    Little was known today about the three young victims, 3-year-old twins and their 5-year-old sister. Their parents escaped, though their mother was in critical condition at Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Delaware County. Their names were not released.

    The fire was reported shortly after 1:30 a.m. in the 200 block of North Broadway, a two-and-a-half-story duplex that had recently received a certificate of occupancy. Neighbors said the victims had lived there about a year, and that the residents of the other unit were on their honeymoon.

    Former firefighter Harry Tomlin, 41, who lives across the street and was a friend of Thomas Stewart, said he was among the first to call the fire in.

    "I heard a ruckus outside, people yelling, it sounded like a fight," he told reporters. "I went out, saw the fire. I went and got my pants on and my wife said there were people trapped." He called 911.

    "When I went outside, the father was screaming that his children were inside. But by that time, there was no way we could get in. The heat was pushing us back."

    Tomlin said a woman appeared on the roof. "I was begging her not to go back inside. But fire does funny things to people. She went back inside.

    "The flames moved quickly. It was hot as a frying pan on the roof where she was. I felt helpless," Tomlin said.

    Next-door neighbor Bobbi Ann Dieterich, 31, also saw the mother screaming for help and called 911. After fleeing her own home, Dieterich said she watched the blaze engulf the duplex's first floor, spread to a tree and to the top floor.

    Monique Gagliardi, 34, noticed the blaze when the heat level rose inside her home, and took to the street. "There wasn't a window that there wasn't a flame coming out of," she said.

    Fire officials said the house partially collapsed and workers sounded an emergency evacuation. But suddenly, the entire structure fell, trapping eight firefighters under burning debris.

    Gagliardi said the house fell "like a deck of cards. It looked like everything was under control, and then it just collapsed. Everybody was running."

    Five of the eight were rescued. They and three others were treated at area hospitals and released.

    The fire was left burning hours longer than normal, officials said, to prevent forcing hot gas into the debris, where the victims were trapped.

    The fire was out shortly after 5 a.m., and rescuers used backhoes to clear rubble while they searched for victims. When a firefighter's body was removed about 8 a.m., police and firefighters lined up several rows deep and saluted.

    "The most painful thing in this process," said Camden County Fire Marshal Paul Hartstein, "was the hope they were still alive. Just to know we were that close . . . but they were pinned by so much debris."

    Throughout the sweltering day, demolition crews sorted through the ruins, seeking the third child, who was found around 1 p.m.

    In a scene reminiscent of the aftermath of the World Trade Center collapse, firefighters doffed their hats as they were led in prayer by the Rev. Michael Manion of Immaculate Conception Church in Camden. Then they gently lifted the last body from the ruins and carried it away.

    Hundreds of rescue workers helped throughout the day, including fire companies from Camden and Gloucester Counties as well as Philadelphia.

    West joined the county fire marshal's office in 1990, Hartstein said. An eager, thorough investigator, he rose to head of the county canine unit, and was rarely seen without his Labrador retriever, Raider.

    He and his wife, Angela, had three children - a toddler, John Jr., and daughters Alyssa and Nicole.

    Sylvester and his wife of three years, Marilyn, were expecting their first child next month.

    A lifelong resident of Mount Ephraim, Sylvester seemed born to be a fireman - as a child, his favorite place was the fire station, where his father was chief.

    Everyone in town assumed Sylvester would follow his father. "He was a great kid, and he grew up to be a great guy," said Mount Ephraim commissioner James Weist Jr. "But always, his hobby was firefighting."

    Both West and Sylvester, who was the borough's public works director, taught at the Camden County Fire Academy.

    Stewart, son of a prominent Gloucester City family of firefighters, was remembered as kind and helpful.

    "His dad was a firefighter," said friend Gagliardi. "He was always the one who took care of people when something like this happened. I was told he went back in after the mom. He was yelling for everyone else to get out. The mom went back after the kids and he went in after the mom."

    Wednesday afternoon, Stewart was anxious but obviously overjoyed as he prepared to propose to Danielle Ruggiero, mother of his 2-year-old son, Nicholas. He told an Inquirer reporter that he was "great, but I'll be a lot better when this is over."

    He said he had planned every detail, and had even obtained the fire chief's permission to bring a fire truck to the event, an unusual circumstance. Stewart climbed the truck's ladder, then proposed to his fianc

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