WAYNE, NJ - Anthony “Tony” Pagnotta and his wife Linda went to bed in their Andover Drive home on the evening of July 4 with the sounds of fireworks going off across the street. The next sounds they heard, hours later, were the excited screams of their son’s friend yelling up to them that their house was on fire.
“I thought it was just a prank,” said Pagnotta, adding that he walked down the stairs slowly; ready to be angry, but was surprised by the smell of smoke and the fire raging on his back deck, climbing up the side of his house.
“There were 30-foot flames flying out of my garage,” he said. “It was crazy; just crazy.”
Seeing his back deck on fire, Pagnotta's first instinct was to start spraying his garden hose on the deck around his propane grill. If the propane tank had become hot enough, it would've exploded and this would've been their wake up call.
"We're so lucky that our son's friend Jared Gutch showed up when he did," said Tony. "He saved us."
The Pagnottas were lucky twice that evening. Their next bit of luck was that Wayne volunteer fireman, Bill Siegrist was only a minute from the house when the call came. Instead of driving to the firehouse first, he went straight to the scene.
“I wanted to make sure that the occupants were out safely,” said Siegrist who found that Tony, Linda, their son John and their dog Coco were all out of the house. Their other son Jake had been away.
Siegrist then saw a neighbor with a garden hose, who let him use it on the house. He described the moment: “I was spraying the house, then [Fire Company #4 Chief] Sam Shakkour came up, and he had a fire can, and he started hitting it. Then an Assistant Chief from Fire Company #2 came up, and he had a can with a foam agent, and he started hitting it, and together we were able to knock the fire down. Some of the siding had melted away in the back, so we were able to hit the flames in the attic from the exterior. I guess it was enough to knock it almost all the way down.”
Wayne Fire Commissioner Bob Minnarick told Tony later on that if the Fire Department had arrived ten minutes later, the entire house would’ve been engulfed in flames. Instead, the damage to their house was mostly in the garage and the adjoining walls.
Three Wayne Fire Companies arrived in five fire trucks. They swarmed the house and the fire seen from the outside was quickly extinguished, but Minnarick told TAPinto that secondary fires were found in the roof attic. These were also extinguished, but the volunteer firefighters’ job was still not done. They needed to make sure that there were not fires slowly building within the walls, which is common. This is called extension.
It wasn’t until 1:30 a.m. that the Wayne firefighters were confident that the scene was secured and the last fire truck left. Minnarick told TAPinto that a comprehensive fire inspection determined that the cause of the fire was attributed to fireworks.
The next day, Tony Pagnotta had a message for the Wayne Fire Department: “Thank you very much,” he said. “I appreciate everything. You guys came here and did a great job.”
“Now I don’t mind paying my taxes,” he added with a laugh.
Siegrist had a first that night as a firefighter. “That was the first time in 38 years I put a house fire out with a garden hose,” he said with a laugh of his own.
The Pagnottas were lucky. Wayne Mayor Chris Vergano issued a warning in his July 2 video address to the Township. “In 2018, 67 per cent of all firework injuries were sustained during the 30-day period surrounding the Fourth of July. 5,600 injuries occurred nationwide due to fireworks with 36% occurring in children under 15. There were also five reported deaths.”
It was a relief to all that there were no fatalities from this house fire.