EDGEWATER, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Authorities on Friday released 911 calls from the fire last week that devastated a sprawling apartment complex in Edgewater, New Jersey.
As CBS2’s Dick Brennan reported, 911 calls poured in as the gigantic fire ripped through the Avalon at Edgewater complex on Wednesday of last week.
Dispatcher: “911, where is your emergency?”
Man: “Yeah, there’s a fire in Edgewater, New Jersey, and there’s people in the building.”
The blaze was started by workers doing plumbing repairs. The five-alarm fire destroyed 240 units, permanently displacing 500 residents and temporarily displacing another 520 residents from surrounding buildings.
It seemed clear from the 911 calls that some inside the complex indeed did not know what was going on.
Dispatcher: “Are you in the building, sir?”
Man: “I’m not in the building. I just drove by it, and I had to tell a guy to get out. He didn’t know that the building’s on fire.”
The confusion seemed to persist even though the fire alarms were going off.
Woman: “It seems that the alarm here, and I’m at Avalon at Edgewater, and the alarms keep going on and on and on and on and on and on.”
Dispatcher: “Is there a fire?”
Woman: “I don’t know.”
Dispatcher: “Is that your alarm, ma’am? What’s your apartment?”
Woman: “It’s everybody’s alarm here. The whole building, the whole complex. It’s Avalon at Edgewater. It’s the whole complex. All the alarms are going off.”
Edgewater police said the maintenance workers were using a blow torch to fix a plumbing leak when they accidentally started the fire. But they did not call 911 right away, police said.
“They tried to suppress it themselves, and then they called their supervisor,” said Edgewater police Chief William Skidmore. “It was a very big contributor, because there was a delay in response to the fire department.”
Edgewater police said everyone was evacuated. But the damage was staggering.
In the meantime, some called 911 worrying that the fire might spread even wider.
Woman: “I know the fire is in Edgewater because I can see it from my house, but the embers are now starting to come and float over.”
Two lawsuits have now been filed in connection with the fire. A mother and daughter who lived in the Avalon at Edgewater sued AvalonBay Communities for damages Thursday, asserting they suffered mental anguish and emotional distress in addition to economic loss.
On Monday, two other former residents sued and are seeking class action status for the lawsuit. The suit filed Thursday doesn’t seek the same classification; attorney Michael Epstein, who represents plaintiffs Sarah and Lisette Jacobo, said in an email that he felt a class action was not appropriate “because every victim has independent and different losses.”
Also on Thursday, Assemblyman Scott Rumana, (R-Passaic, Bergen), said he would propose a bill that would impose a moratorium on approvals for multi-family housing developments until the state’s building code is revised.
“The Edgewater inferno makes it clear that we need new and improved building standards in New Jersey in order to protect residents and first responders,” Rumana said. “Until those new standards are in place, a moratorium on new building is urgent. We need to ensure that better construction standards, designed to save lives, are in place before any new multi-family housing is built.”
There have been no allegations of building code violations at the apartment complex, but fire officials and lawmakers have questioned the use of lightweight wood that many say is more flammable than other types of wood.
“Everybody’s life is in jeopardy. We cannot let it continue,” Rumana told WCBS 880’s Sean Adams. “I find these places to be fire traps and that’s not acceptable. That’s not acceptable construction and I think the time is right for change.”
This wasn’t the first time the same apartment complex has been engulfed in flames.
In August of 2000, the complex was under construction when a fast-moving fire tore through it. The flames also destroyed a dozen surrounding homes, displacing up to 70 people.
The 2000 fire was ruled accidental by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office. No deaths or serious injuries were reported.
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