MT. ARLINGTON, NJ – At approximately 4:30pm on Wednesday afternoon, Havey and Pat Togno’s generator caught fire and because it sat so close to their house, flames began to catch on their Kadel Drive home.
Harvey Togno told TAPinto that he was home doing a crossword puzzle when he began to smell acrid smoke.
At that same moment, Togno’s neighbor Tom Monaselli had just arrived home from work, and smelled the same odor, but also saw white smoke drifting up from Togno’s house.
“When I came over, I saw the generator was on fire,” Monaselli said. “I, right away, grabbed Harvey and his wife and had them call 911.” The Togno’s ran from their house with cell phone in hand, calling for Mt. Arlington’s all-volunteer fire department.
Monaselli ran to his house and grabbed his fire extinguishers and ran back with his friend Steve Geist following closely behind “By the time we got back, the flames were just flying out,” said Monaselli.
The fire had eaten through the outer garage wall, melting vinyl siding and lighting the studs running up the inside of the garage on fire. Flames were shooting out of the vent near the top of the garage, just above the generator.
Monaselli and Geist began to fight the fire on their own. Using a fire extinguisher, Monaselli quickly put out the generator fire, while Geist began using the Togno’s garden hose, spraying water upward and into the vent, where the fire was shooting out.
It was about five minutes later that Mt. Arlington’s bravest arrived on scene, but the flames were now gone, and only thick gray smoke drifted up out of the vent near the roof.
The all-volunteer firefighters took control, breaking out the garage windows with an axe, and finally opening the garage door, which had been locked from inside. They attacked the fire from within and made sure that there were no secondary fires anywhere in the house.
In total, two fire trucks from Mt. Arlington and two from the Picatinny Arsenal Fire Department along with an ambulance from St. Claire’s while several Mt. Arlington police officers assisted with traffic control. The ‘All Clear’ was given at 6:20pm.
Jason Vivian, Assistant Chief for the Mt. Arlington Fire Department, said that generator fires are rare. “It can happen, but mostly when people are running generators, it’s a [carbon monoxide] issue that we respond to, when the exhaust creeps into the house.”
The volunteer Assistant Fire Chief was asked if it was safe to have the generator right next to the house.
“I would suggest people keep generators at least three to four feet away from the house,” said Vivian. “That way you avoid the emissions coming into the house and if something like this happens, it avoids your house catching on fire.”
The neighborhood came out to watch the scene with several people chatting together across the street as the firefighters rolled up their hoses. Children from the neighborhood began to hand out water bottles to the firefighters, EMTs and police officers who had come on a warm summer afternoon to keep everyone safe.
Because of great neighbors, the Togno’s living area had only some smoke damage. “I appreciate everybody who came to help us,” said Pat Togno. “The firefighters were all kind, and respectful and professional. So, a big thank you to them. But an even bigger thank you to our neighbor Tom and his friend Steve. They saved our home.”
The Togno's children and grandchildren came to support them and a bout a dozen kept them company on the lawn, talking and laughing.
The blackened generator was being inspected by the fire marshal, but did not give a comment.