EAST ORANGE, NJ — When East Orange was faced with two deadly fires on Sunday, Dec. 11, the Irvington Fire Department and the township-based MTS tow truck company were quick to assist.
Through a mutual aid agreement with neighboring municipalities in Essex and Union counties, numerous fire departments, including those of Irvington, East Orange and Orange, provide “cover” for fellow fire companies when assistance is needed, as was the case with the fire at 160 Midland Ave. In East Orange on Sunday, Dec. 11.
Although MTS is a private towing company, it does contract work for Irvington and other neighboring towns, which regularly call on the company to deal with vehicles involved in traffic accidents, crime scenes, investigations and other incidents such as Sunday’s fire.
“We had fire departments from Irvington, Newark, Bloomfield, Orange and all over out here yesterday, helping us fight this fire,” said East Orange Code Enforcement Director Dwight Saunders on Monday, Dec. 12, when he returned to the Midland Avenue fire scene to inspect the site. “There were three or four cars parked in the driveway of the house when the fire started that got burned. And we called MTS to come take them away.”
According to MTS owner Mark Minnette, helping out in emergencies such as the two fires in different locations in East Orange on Sunday, Dec. 11, is a part of the job. His company and adjoining lot are located on Chancellor Avenue near the Newark border.
“We’re just doing our job like anybody else, like police officers of firemen,” Minnette said Tuesday, Dec. 13. “We’re happy to help any way that we can. It’s unfortunate that that we have to be involved in things and situations like this, where that poor woman died, but at least we can make sure it gets done as quickly and efficiently and professionally as possible.”
“I can confirm that we did respond to East Orange at 5:11 a.m. on the morning of the Dec. 11,” said Irvington Fire Department Deputy Chief William Mulligan on Tuesday, Dec. 13. “The report does not give much detail, but we did respond to render mutual aid. Apparently, we just assisted in ongoing fire ground operations, checking lines and stuff.”
Mulligan also confirmed the Irvington Fire Department’s involvement in the second fire on the afternoon of Sunday, Dec. 11, on North Harrison Street in East Orange.
“We then went back at 2:42 p.m. and, at that time, as per the report, we provide mutual aid by providing house coverage, which means we stood by in their firehouse while they fought the fire,” said Mulligan on Sunday, Dec. 11. “That was Ladder 42. On both occasions we provided one ladder company.”
According to a press release from Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn A. Murray on Sunday, Dec. 11, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and East Orange Fire and Police departments were investigating a fatal fire that broke out in the early morning hours of Dec. 11, on Midland Avenue in East Orange.
“The home was occupied by nine people. Eight people escaped. The owner of the home, 72-year-old Maureen Phillips, was initially unaccounted for, but her body has since been discovered and she was pronounced dead at the scene,” Murray said in the release.
Phillips’ 38-year-old son, who was injured in the fire, was being treated at an area hospital. Murray also gave updates on the other seven people that were in the house when the fire broke out.
“In addition, a 52-year-old woman was injured,” said Murray. “She is hospitalized in critical condition. Six others, ranging in age from 36 years old to 1 year old, were in the home at the time the blaze broke out.”
Murray said fire and police department officials, as well as representatives from the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, are investigating the cause of the early morning fire. They have determined, she said, that the fire also spread to 64 Midland Ave., an unoccupied structure on a piece of property adjacent to the residence at 62 Midland Ave.
“The cause of the fire in still undetermined,” said Murray. The investigation is active and ongoing. Additional information will be released as it becomes available.”
According to Murray, the second fatal fire on Sunday, Dec. 11, occurred on the other side of East Orange on North Harrison Street. On Monday, Dec. 12, she said the county and local authorities were cooperating in investigating the fatal fire.
“Yesterday, at approximately 2:52 pm, a fire broke out at 25 North Harrison St.,” said Murray in a press release Monday, Dec. 12. “Kouadio Loboue, 64, sustained fatal injuries. The preliminary investigation indicates Mr. Loboue, who was seated in a walker, appears to have been using the stove to stay warm, when his clothing caught fire. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The investigation is active and ongoing. No other information is available at this time.”
According to Mulligan, it is unusual for the Irvington Fire Department to be called on to render mutual aid in the same city more than once on any given day, and acknowledged that Dec. 11 wasn’t an ordinary day.
“It’s unusual to be called to the same city twice in one day. I don’t have any information on the deaths,” said Mulligan on Tuesday, Dec. 13. “We do respond to East Orange often to help out the city when we have fire incidents. They reciprocate and help out when we have fire incidents.”
And that, Mulligan said, is what mutual aid is all about.
“Mutual aid comes from, once upon a time, many years ago, the towns got together and entered into mutual aid agreements, where they agreed to provide assistance to each other in the event of an emergency,” said Mulligan. “It doesn’t have to be a fire; it could be anything. It’s a cooperative effort. We provide assistance to each other in emergencies, as needed, as requested. It’s a request from the specific town and it’s coordinated through the Essex County fire coordinator.”
The North Jersey Red Cross released a statement on Sunday, Dec. 11, that they are assisting the survivors of the deadly early morning fire that had been “displaced by a fire at their home on Midland Avenue in East Orange this morning.”
According to Ana Montero, the regional chief executive officer of the American Red Cross New Jersey Region, to make a donation to the surviving victims of the Midland Avenue fire, visit www.redcross.org.