Nearly four years after staging a dramatic rescue on Franklin Street, five members of the Secaucus Volunteer Fire Department were at long last officially recognized for their heroic efforts in March 2006.
Pat Maxwell, Michael Pepe, William Heany, Christopher Snyder, and Charles T. Snyder were honored by the Town Council at the Feb. 9 council meeting for saving the lives of two residents who were trapped in a burning home.
A man and woman became on the second floor by smoke and flames.
The fire broke out at around 11:29 p.m. on March 7, 2006. Six residents were home at the time, and two – a man and a woman – quickly became trapped on the second floor of the home at 164 Franklin.
Engine Company 2 responded first to the two-alarm blaze, with members of Ladder Company 1 quickly joining them, according to a Reporter article from 2006.
Four residents were able to flee the two-floor, two-family home, but the man and woman became trapped upstairs by smoke and flames. Several firefighters pooled their efforts to help rescue the pair.
Captain Charles Snyder of Engine Company 2 and firefighter Pat Maxwell attempted to access the second floor via the rear stairway, but were pushed back by flames and heavy smoke. In an attempt to rescue the pair using a different route, Second Lt. Chris Snyder set up a 10-foot ladder and climbed to the first-floor roof. He then made his way into a second-floor window where two residents were trapped.
At the same time, Pepe of Engine Co. 2 and Heany of Ladder Co. 1 placed a 35-foot ladder up to the roof. Gonnelli, who at the time was battalion chief, and Pepe pulled the pair from the smoke-filled home and got them to safety.
“It was [Captain Charles Snyder’s] idea to split up the unit to fight the fire,” said Christ Snyder at the Feb. 9 Town Council session at which the firefighters where honored. “If it hadn’t been for that decision, the outcome might not have been what it was.”
It took nearly three hours for firefighters to get the blaze, which was caused by a faulty boiler, under control.
The fire largely destroyed the house, which had to be rebuilt.
The incident displaced the six residents who for a short time were put up by the town’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) at the local Crowne Plaza Hotel. OEM also assisted the residents in getting other help since almost everything they owned was lost in the fire.
There were no serious injuries reported, although one resident was treated for smoke inhalation at Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center.
Following their rescue, members of Engine Company 2 and Ladder Company 1 were honored by a state firefighters’ association. But it took the town almost for years to follow suit. Although former Mayor Dennis Elwell publically praised Gonnelli for his efforts, some observers in town speculated that Elwell was reluctant to formally honor the Franklin Street firefighters because of Gonnelli’s involvement in the rescue. Gonnelli and Elwell were politically at odds at the time.
At the time of the incident Gonnelli was superintendent of the Department of Public Works (DPW). As he prepared to retire from the DPW, Gonnelli was gearing up to run for Town Council and was putting together a slate of Independent candidates to rival Elwell’s Democratic ticket.
Gonnelli was also locked in a dispute with the town over details in his retirement package.
The Franklin Street fire is remembered as one of the many watershed moments in the split between Elwell and Gonnelli.
The fire also led to controversy when some residents questioned the safety of multi-family homes in Secaucus.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.