U.S. Fire Administration
On July 1, 1988, a fire at the Ford Auto Dealership in Hackensack, New Jersey, took the lives of five firefighters when a bowstring truss roof collapsed.
Just a minute prior to the collapse the incident commander had instructed the firefighters working on the interior to “back your lines out.”
This message was not heard due to defective fireground communications equipment.
Debris from the subsequent roof collapse pinned three firefighters while two others escaped to an adjacent room.
These two firefighters radioed for assistance but neither the incident commander nor the fire alarm dispatcher picked up the calls for help.
By the time word was relayed to the incident commander from civilians picking up the calls for help on their scanners it was too late to effect a rescue.
HACKENSACK, N. J. - 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 die 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.
"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.
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.
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.
Four other Hackensack firemen died in the line of duty over the years, all in roadway accidents responding to fire alarms:
· Fireman Frederick Maas, Truck Co. 1, killed Feb. 6, 1919
· Fireman Robert Paget, Truck Co. 1, died June 6, 1935 of injuries sustained in 1932
· Captain Frederick Mathews and Fireman Andrew Lange, both of Engine Co. 5, killed March 23, 1953