New Jersey Firefighters Exonerated In Fatal Blaze

A fire union official said the department was pleased by the long-awaited findings

The report also addresses whether firefighters acted properly by not using a thermal-imaging camera to detect hot spots in the basement on their first visit to the home. The device can reveal otherwise undetectable smoke and fire burning inside walls by measuring temperature changes.

Township fire officials had said firefighters did not use the camera because they did not smell smoke, and that the camera would not have detected the overloaded freezer motor because of the heavy insulation that surrounds it.

The state report supports that position.

"They reported that conditions were completely normal," the report said. "It was for these reasons that they did not employ the use of the [camera]. ... The thermal-imaging camera would not have been an effective tool in locating this overheated fan motor, if it was in fact overheating at the time of the first incident."

A 'thorough' probe

Township officials had expressed frustration that it took the state nearly a year to release the 19-page report. A state spokesman defended the fire safety division's work.

"The department was charged with a very serious and important task," said Sean Darcy, the spokesman. "We were asked to do a thorough investigation and that's exactly what we did."

The report also notes several obstacles that may have slowed the family's response to the fire and hampered firefighters.

"A major issue was the lack of an adequate number of operational and/or properly placed smoke detectors," the report said. "A working smoke detector in the area of the fire origin could have provided early warning to the occupants allowing precious time for escape."

The three-story house had two working smoke detectors the night of the fire, on the first and third floors. There was no battery in the smoke detector in the basement, where the fire started, the report said. The home's early-1900s "balloon" structure sped the flames.

After the blaze, the Fire Department began requiring firefighters who observe deficiencies regarding smoke detectors during visits to homes to report the problems to the Fire Prevention Bureau, which would then inspect the detectors and install batteries or replace the detectors.

Some departments carry smoke detectors with their fire apparatus and install them immediately during calls to homes without the devices.

Windows obstructed by furniture and air conditioners also slowed firefighters' access to the upper floors. Two of the children who died were found in an upstairs bathroom, and the other two in the attic.

The report commended the quick action of neighbors, saying they "contributed significantly to the rescue of two children" before first responders arrived.