HOPEWELL TOWNSHIP (Mercer County, New Jersey) --- An automatic fire alarm system did its job, giving firefighters an early warning that allowed them to contain a blaze to one section of a large warehouse on Saturday, June 26, 1999.

Firefighters from seven area fire companies responded to extinguish the two-alarm blaze in the building at 1589 Reed Road.

The fire started in a workroom located at the rear of the first floor of Medical Indicators Inc. A fault in a compressor unit on a small refrigerator was the cause, according to police.

Medical Indicators Inc., which occupies the left half of the two-story warehouse, was not equipped with a functional fire alarm system. However, there was a working fire alarm inside Fashions of Seventh Avenue, located in the right half of the building.

As the fire intensified inside Medical Indicators, smoke filtered into the other side of the building, triggering the Fashions fire alarm at 10:59 p.m. Pennington Fire Co. (Station 51) of Pennington Borough, which is contracted to protect that section of the township, and police Patrolman William Gaskill were sent to investigate.

There was an odor of smoke in the air when Gaskill reached the scene. Patrolman Ed VanHise and Pennington firefighters arrived a short time later and gained entry to Fashions.

Firefighters immediately realized they had a working fire somewhere inside the other half of the building and the balance of the first alarm assignment was ordered to the scene.

Thick smoke pushed out from around the door frame as soon as firefighters began forcing their way through the metal door at the front of Medical Indicators.

Because the extent of the fire inside the building was unknown at that time and the items stored inside the warehouse offered a ready supply of fuel for the flames, Pennington Fire Chief Jason Belmont requested the second alarm as a precaution.

Responding on the first and second alarms to back up Pennington firefighters were crews and apparatus from the Union Fire Co. (Station 53) of Hopewell Township, Hopewell Fire Co. (Station 52) of Hopewell Borough, Lawrence Road Fire Co. (Station 22) and Lawrenceville Fire Co. (Station 23) from Lawrence Township, and Pennington Road Fire Co. (Station 32) and West Trenton Fire Co. (Station 33) from Ewing Township.

A pair of 1.75-inch handlines were stretched into Medical Indicators to attack the flames. Ladder Tower 51, Telesquirt 32, and Telesquirt 53 were raised to the roof to assist in ventilation and to stand ready in case conditions inside deteriorated and master streams were needed.

Fortunately, interior crews were able to make good progress and the bulk of the fire was contained to the workroom where it began. The rest of Medical Indicators, however, sustained extensive smoke damage.

The fire was declared under control at 12:05 a.m., however firefighters remained on scene for several more hours to perform overhaul work and assist investigators.

The fire was investigated by Hopewell Township Detective Doug Pelcz, Mercer County 1st Assistant Fire Marshal Jim Greschak, and Detective Brian McManimon of the Mercer County Prosecutorís Arson Unit.

Ironically, the blaze at Medical Indicators occurred only a short distance from where a two-alarm fire on January19, 1997, destroyed Building D of the Hopewell Valley Industrial Park in the 1600 block of Reed Road. About 125 firefighters braved sub-freezing temperatures to battle that blaze.

NOTE: This account was written by Michael Ratcliffe of New Jersey Firefighters Online. More fireground action from throughout New Jersey can be found at http://www.njfirefighters.com

[This message has been edited by Station 22 (edited June 28, 1999).]