Pennsylvania Firefighter Killed Battling Blaze

Lt. Nick Picozzi Jr. was a member of Lower Chichester Volunteer Fire Department.


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When the Lower Chichester firehouse whistle blew yesterday, Lt. Nicholas Picozzi Jr. was not the only one from his family to respond.

His father, Nicholas Sr., a member of the fire police, and his mother, Nancy, financial secretary for the ladies auxiliary, also turned out.

They were on the scene as the married father of two boys, and a seven-year volunteer with the Lower Chichester Fire Company, was fatally injured while battling a three-alarm house blaze in Upper Chichester.

Picozzi, 35, was taken out of the charred house on a stretcher yesterday morning and rushed to Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Upland.

"The whole family is involved," Lower Chichester Fire Chief Ray Fuller Sr. said yesterday. "That's what makes it hard on us."

Three other firefighters were injured. The cause of the fire is under investigation, officials said, who are awaiting a medical examiner's report for Picozzi's cause of death.

After his son's death, Nicholas Picozzi Sr. was admitted to the hospital as a precaution when he felt ill, said Denis Garvine, a spokesman for the Lower Chichester department.

Picozzi is the second Delaware County firefighter to die on duty in the last five months.

One of the three injured firefighters remained hospitalized. First Assistant Chief Kenny Dawson Jr. from Green Ridge Fire Department in Aston was in fair condition yesterday at the Crozer-Chester burn unit.

Assistant Chief Chris Durbano from Lower Chichester and firefighter Tom Morgan Jr., also of the Green Ridge department, were released from the hospital after treatment.

The firefighters were injured while trying to rescue Picozzi, said David Holland, fire marshal for Upper Chichester.

At the Lower Chichester Municipal Building, fellow firefighters and police recalled their fallen friend as "an all-around nice guy."

He was "a dedicated firefighter," said Sgt. Larry Moore, 44, of the Lower Chichester Police Department, who knew Piccozzi for almost two decades. "You could always guarantee he'd be there if the whistles went off."

Firefighters who knew Picozzi met with crisis-management counselors from Delaware County yesterday afternoon. Flags around lower Delaware County flew at half staff.

More than 100 firefighters from all over the southern part of the county and from Claymont, Del., responded to the three-alarm blaze, which broke out in a two-story, single family home around 8:30 a.m. No one was in the home at the time, fire officials said.

Windows were charred upstairs and downstairs.

"I don't know what happened," said Boothwyn Fire Chief Sandy Montello. "It was a basement fire, and it deteriorated."

The house was owned by Jay and Kelly Orfetel, who lived there with their three children ages 13 to 21.

The family's Labrador retriever, Hunter, died in the fire, Kelly Orfetel said.

"It just went up," she said of the house. The American Red Cross was assisting the family yesterday.

The Orfetels and neighbors speculated that a power surge from a downed wire may have caused the fire.

Two large trees near the property fell on a 13,000-volt primary distribution line, confirmed Peco Energy Co. spokesman Michael Wood. Wood said Peco is investigating a connection with the fire.

About 1,200 customers in the area lost power; by yesterday afternoon, electricity had been restored to all but a few dozen homes.

Construction worker Jason Lloyd, 32, said he heard a loud bang. "Ten minutes later, there was smoke. We just saw flames coming from the bottom basement" window.

Neighbor Greg DiEmidio noticed the smoke and kicked the door down. Once inside, he began knocking on doors and calling out to see whether anybody was inside.

"I was coughing, and my eyes were tearing the whole time. The smoke just hit me. I couldn't see my hands in front of my face."

In addition to his parents, Picozzi is survived by his wife, Stephanie, and two sons Anthony, 13, and Danny, 11. Fire officials said he worked on the night shift for Kimberly-Clark Corp. in Chester.

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