WEST CALDWELL, NJ – At 3:25pm, Saturday, officers from the West Caldwell Police Department responded to a 911 call at at 45 Fairfield Place, West Caldwell. Employees from the Mullen Roofing Company had called to report a fire which was out of control and had begun to spread. When the officers arrived at the scene, they found heavy black smoke encompassing the building and the entire street area.
The police discovered that there was a forklift on fire along with roofing tar kettles. The outside fire was directly next to the building and headed towards the roof area. Officers confirmed with headquarters that a fire was in progress, and Fairfield Police reported to the scene as well.
As Fire Chief Jim Alvine of the West Caldwell Volunteer Fire Department arrived, the officers appraised him of the situation.
In a Monday afternoon press release, Alvine explained that the fire encompassed, “several vehicles, a fork lift and several large propane tanks on fire at the right side of the building. The fire was reported by employees from Mullen as they were in the process of cleaning out one of their tar kettles, which ignited when the wind flared up. They tried to extinguish the fire, however the fire got out of control and started spreading to the nearby stored vehicles. They called 911 after they could not control the fire.”
The chief requested mutual aid from area towns; Fairfield Place was completely shut down to all traffic.
Caldwell and Verona Volunteer Fire Departments responded along with the West Essex First Aid Squad.
The West Caldwell Engine Company 708 fought the fire from the right side of the building.
While the Caldwell firefighters entered the building from the front to search for extension into the building.
The windows at the rear of the building melted from the heat of the fire, but the firefighters were able to stop the fire from entering the structure.
The most dangerous aspect of the fire was the inclusion of propane tanks. The chief explained, “The valves on the propane tanks melted off due to the fire spreading from the vehicles and the tar kettle. When they melt off, the gas expels and the vapors are ignited.”
At that point the propane tanks were in danger of exploding but as Alvine further described, they remained in tact:
“They could explode if their relief valves do not operate. However when heat is applied to the tanks, the gas expands inside the tank, then the relief valve lets overpressure out of the tank, which is propane gas. The gas ignites even if the valves do not melt off. We let the vapors burn and cool the tanks so they do not explode. Once all of the propane gas burns out of the tanks, they are safe.”
The fire was entirely put out by 4:26pm and there was no report of any injuries; the cause continues to be investigated by the chief. By 5:30pm, the building was turned back over to Mullen employees.
“It was a great stop by all firemen” Chief Alvine stated. “This could have been a disaster as there were at least 10 vehicles and more propane tanks inside the building.”