Hackensack, NJ Fire At Auto Dealer Kills Five, July 1988

Fire Damage Fighting The Blaze Fire Damage Hackensack Memorial


Hackensack, N. J. (AP) -- Five firemen killed when a burning roof collapsed onto them were like "family" in this city, which never had a firefighter die in the line of duty.
"There are only 100 of us in this department and this is just a small place," Fire Chief ANTHONY AIELLOS said Friday. "In a town like this these are your friends."
"It's a sad day in Hackensack," added Mayor FRED CERBO. "We've never had anything like this in our city before. To have five firemen died is just incredible."
The fire, which destroyed the building and contents of a car dealership, started shortly after 3 p.m. Friday in the rear service section of the building, AIELLOS said.
The ceiling collapsed as the firefighters, who were inside the building, were cutting a hole in it to get a hose on flames in a space between the ceiling and the roof, AIELLOS said. The five were killed almost instantly.
"All of a sudden the entire 60-foot square inside ceiling fell on them," he said, adding that four other firefighters inside at the time escaped injury.
The fire apparently started in the space between the ceiling and roof above the dealership's service area, AIELLOS said. The men were spraying the space to try to create a "fog" to decrease the fire's heat, he said.
"They did what they were supposed to do," AIELLOS said.
All of Hackensack's 100 firefighters as well as units from surrounding towns responded to the blaze, which was under control by 6:30 p.m.
Later, fire investigators picked through the debris. But the roof collapse may make it impossible to find the exact cause, AIELLOS said. A damage estimate was not immediately available.
Hundreds of bystanders watched along the busy intersection in this New York suburb of 40,000 people while the firefighters' bodies were placed in ambulances. Many clutched friends when stretchers bearing the bodies came briefly into view.
The victims were Capt. RICHARD WILLIAMS, 54, Lt. RICHARD REINHOGEN, 48, and firefighters WILLIAM KREJSA, 52, LEONARD RADUMSKI, 38, and STEPHEN ENNIS, 30. All five were from Hackensack.
All the employees of Hackensack Ford were evacuated without injuries, police said. There were no other firefighters injured.
CERBO said a memorial service would be held next week. AIELLOS planned to meet with the families today after autopsies are performed.
"These were good men," he said. "And there are a lot of kids."
The fatalities were the first deaths in action in Hackensack Fire Department history, AIELLOS said.
Hackensack, only four square miles in size, has many longtime residents who will be hit hard by the deaths, he said.
At the department's headquarters, a wreath and an American flag at half-staff paid tribute to the victims.
"It was like losing a member of your family," firefighter TOM CANZANELLA said.

Indiana Gazette Pennsylvania 1988-07-02