PATERSON, NJ - 20 minutes before a formal ribbon cutting of a new apartment building on Paterson’s South Side, a more urgent circumstance unfolded. As a Department of Public Works crew unloaded the podium from a pick-up truck for the event, screams were heard from across the street, less than a block away.

A casual look revealed billowing smoke pouring out of a window on the side of a two-story home on Hemlock Street. Initially, the dark cloud seemed to recede but, moments later, only intensified.  The DPW work crew quickly sprang into action by shouting to alert nearby homeowners. Several members also dialed for emergency aid.   

 “My mom was able to escape the flames,” Ruth Mejia stated, adding that she received a call from her 63-year-old mother who lives inside the home.  “I drove as fast as I could from my house on Governor Street. I was frantic. The fire started when my mother was cooking. The grease that was on the oven hood caught fire. I am so relieved and thankful that she is okay.” 

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DPW members also directed traffic and facilitated the moving of parked cars to clear the way for the arrival of fire department vehicles. Within five minutes, two large, red fire engines, sirens blaring, appeared on the scene.  

A contractor for the house had already started to spread water on, and through, the window but gave way to the essential workers. Over a dozen of Paterson’s bravest, clad in full gear, entered the building or worked outside. After the smoke had cleared, firefighters used a ladder and various, long tools to chop out areas around the window that were still smoldering.

“I’m proud of our city’s first responders, both the DPW and firefighters,” Mayor Andre Sayegh, joined by Paterson Public Safety Director Jerry Speziale, said from the scene just before he set back to cutting the ribbon on the new apartment building.  “This could have been far worse on the day we are cutting a ribbon for a significant project in Paterson.”  

“I’ve lived on this street for 20 years,” Edwin Perez, a resident just a few houses away reflected.  “I’ve never seen a big fire around here.  There have been some small kitchen fires, here and there.  The Paterson Fire Department does a pretty good job of responding.”

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