State Will Review New Jersey Firefighters' Actions Before Fatal Fire

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- The state will review the actions of firefighters who checked out a house and found nothing wrong hours before a fatal fire killed four children.

Teaneck officials invited the state inquiry Thursday, two days after a raging fire swept through the house, killing the siblings and critically injuring their mother. Two other siblings survived.

Fire officials blamed an overloaded electrical circuit for the fire.

Hours before the blaze broke out, the fire department had been called to the home to check out a smell of smoke. A dozen firefighters from four companies spent about 30 minutes at the house, The Record of Bergen County reported for Friday, but could find nothing wrong.

The state Division of Fire Safety will review firefighters' initial response to the home and will audit the department's policies and procedures to ''make sure this type of incident never happens again,'' said Susan Bass Levin, commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs.

Teaneck police began the investigation, but township officials asked for an independent review to avoid any potential conflict of interest.

''We want the events that transpired to be looked at in a way that, whatever the conclusion is, it will have deep credibility,'' township Manager Helen Fall told The Record.

The fire erupted at 1:45 a.m. -- five hours after firefighters had checked out and cleared the house -- killing Ari Seidenfeld, 15; his brothers, Noah, 6, and Natan, 4; and a 5-year-old sister, Adira. Their mother, Philyss Seidenfeld, and two siblings Aviva, 7, and Zahava, 12, were injured along with a nanny, Betty Mbaza.

Funerals for the children were held Wednesday, while their mother remained hospitalized in critical condition.

''We are not afraid of any investigation,'' said Mayor Jacqueline Kates, ''because the feeling is that everything that could be done was done. But if the investigation shows that there are some procedures that need to be changed, we need to be aware of that.''

The origin of the fire has been traced to a basement freezer on an overloaded circuit, which caused the appliance's motor to burn out. Deputy Chief Frank Florio has said the condition was not readily apparent during Monday night's inspection.

One question the review could answer is whether firefighters should have used a thermal-imaging camera on their first call to the house. The cameras seek out hot spots that can't be seen.

Acting Fire Chief John Bauer has said the cameras wouldn't have picked up the circuit overload that caused the blaze.

Information from: The Record of Bergen County

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