It took Lawrence Township volunteer firefighters less than 12 minutes after they were first alerted to the blaze to get three fully-staffed fire engines on the scene of the inferno that destroyed one home and damaged two others on Fountayne Lane early Monday morning (Aug. 13), according to official response records obtained by Lawrenceville Patch.
The question of how long it took firefighters to respond was raised by readers of Patch’s previous coverage of the fire. Some readers on Monday posted comments alleging that it took firefighters as much as 25 minutes to arrive.
According to the official incident report from Mercer County Central Communications – the county agency responsible for dispatching and coordinating fire responses in Lawrence Township and most other municipalities in the county – the company in charge of monitoring the alarm system in the home at 126 Fountayne Lane called the county dispatch center at 12:20 a.m. Monday to report that the automated fire alarm system in the house had just gone off.
After being advised by the alarm monitoring company that a smoke detector had been activated, a 911 operator at Mercer County Central confirmed the address and then, at 12:22 a.m., dispatched the Slackwood and Lawrence Road volunteer fire companies to 126 Fountayne Lane to investigate the reason for the alarm activation.
Lawrence Township’s three fire companies are entirely volunteer, meaning that their firehouses are not manned around the clock like the stations of career – or paid – fire departments. Instead, volunteer firefighters – if they are available at the time – respond from their homes or wherever they might be when needed.
Four career firefighters who work 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding holidays, are currently employed by Lawrence Township to staff one fire engine during the work week when most volunteer firefighters are unavailable due to their full-time work commitments.
The township had planned to hire two additional firefighters this year to help ensure qualified personnel were on duty during the work week to drive the volunteers’ fire engines and operate their complex pumping systems – since only a limited number of volunteers are available to do so – but those positions are being eliminated as part of as a result of the township’s ongoing financial problems.
So Slackwood and Lawrence Road volunteer firefighters, awakened at 12:22 a.m. by the beeping of their fire company pagers, climbed out of bed, dressed and drove from their homes to their respective firehouses. Once at the firehouses, they donned they protective turnout gear and boarded their fire engines to make the drive to Fountayne Lane, which is located off Lawrence Station Road in the eastern-most corner of the township.
Lawrence Township Police Officer Shaun Sexton, meanwhile, was busy responding in his patrol car to check out a separate 911 call that township police happened to receive from the neighborhood at 12:20 a.m. reporting a possible vehicle fire on Fountayne Lane.
Not only did Sexton find a vehicle ablaze in the driveway, he arrived to find the entire house at 126 Fountayne Lane engulfed in flames, police said.
Sexton’s report of a “working structure fire” was relayed by Lawrence police to Mercer County Central Communications, which in turn, at 12:24 a.m., alerted already-responding Slackwood and Lawrence Road volunteers and also dispatched additional crews from Lawrenceville Volunteer Fire Co., Prospect Heights and Pennington Road volunteer fire companies from Ewing Township, and Hamilton Township Fire District 4.
In Lawrence Township and many other municipalities served by volunteer firefighters, as a matter of safety, a fire apparatus must be manned by a minimum of four firefighters before it can respond.
Hamilton’s Ladder 14 – the only unit to respond to Fountayne Lane Monday morning that was staffed by career firefighters – left its firehouse on East State Street at 12:26 a.m., according to response records.
Also responding at 12:26 a.m. with a full crew of volunteers, just four minutes after the first dispatch, was Lawrence Road’s Engine 22 from its firehouse on Route 206. Slackwood’s Engine 21 left its quarters on Slack Avenue, also fully-staffed, at 12:27 a.m., while Lawrenceville’s Telesquirt 23 responded with a full crew from its Phillips Avenue firehouse at 12:29 a.m.
At 12:29 a.m., according to response records, Lawrence Road Fire Chief Shaun Dlabik arrived on the scene and radioed that flames were shooting through the roof of 126 Fountayne Lane. Less than a minute later, Dlabik was joined on the scene by Lawrenceville Fire Chief Gary Wasko and Slackwood Fire Chief Michael Oakley.
At 12:33 a.m., after maneuvering along the narrow lane lined with parked cars that is the only way in and out of the development, Engine 21, Telesquirt 23 and Engine 22 all arrived on the scene one after the other, according to response records.
Ladder 14 arrived at 12:34 a.m., followed by Lawrenceville’s Ladder Tower 23 at 12:38 a.m., Slackwood’s Snorkel 21 at 12:39 a.m. and Lawrence Road’s Rescue 22 at 12:41 a.m.
Prospect Heights' Engine 31 and Pennington Road’s Rescue 32 arrived a few minutes after that.
Firefighting efforts were chaotic in the first minutes, as different hoselines were dragged into position to spray water on the neighboring homes being threatened by the raging flames and firefighters set up the stabilizing jacks to raise Telesquirt 23’s 65-foot ladder and Ladder 14’s 104-foot aerial so water could be rained down upon the engulfed house.
Engine 21’s onboard 800-gallon tank and Telesquirt 23’s own 500-gallon tank supplied the initial water used to fight the flames. After that, thousands of gallons of water were supplied by three hydrants in the neighborhood. Nearly 2,000 feet of large diameter hose was laid and used to flow water from those hydrants to the fire engines.
By 12:41 a.m., according to response records, the roof at the rear of 126 Fountayne Lane had collapsed. A propane cylinder on the rear deck also exploded.
The blaze was officially declared under control at 1:11 a.m. but firefighters continued to flow water on the smoldering ruins of 126 Fountayne Lane for several hours.
The cause of the blaze remains under investigation by Lawrence Township police and fire officials, along with the Mercer County Fire Marshal’s Office and the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office.
Shown in the chart below are the various pieces of firefighting apparatus that responded to the blaze, along with the time that each unit was dispatched, went responding and arrived at the fire scene. Also shown are the times for the chief officers of each of Lawrence Township's three volunteer fire companies.
Other units that responded (such as fire company deputy chiefs and other officers, ambulances, PSE&G utility crews and investigators) are not listed in this chart.
All times are taken directly from the official incident report generated by Mercer County Central Communications.
All entries are listed in military time, with 00 representing 12 a.m. Times are given in the hour/minute/second format.
Ladder Tower 23
Fire Station Identifiers:
- Station 21: Slackwood Volunteer Fire Co., 21 Slack Ave., Lawrence Township
- Station 22: Lawrence Road Volunteer Fire Co., 1252 Lawrence Rd., Lawrence Township
- Station 23: Lawrenceville Volunteer Fire Co., 64 Phillips Ave., Lawrence Township
- Station 14: Hamilton Township Fire District #4, 1805 E. State St., Hamilton Township
- Station 31: Prospect Heights Volunteer Fire Co., 1660 Ninth St., Ewing Township
- Station 32: Pennington Road Volunteer Fire Co., 1666 Pennington Rd., Ewing Township