Randolph, NJ – By Rob Seman, Daily Record – Police are crediting a building superintendent and his stepson with saving lives after they rushed into a burning building to evacuate tenants after one apartment apparently exploded this weekend.
Bob Grace and his stepson Raymond Abbott were eating dinner when they heard the blast, which occurred on the second floor of one of the buildings in the Canfield Mews apartment complex on Barclay Court off Canfield Avenue Sunday night.
Grace, 49, has been building superintendent of the complex since it opened in October 1999, and he helped build the building that burned. “It was a personal thing to see them take part of the building down,” Grace said.
“But in the same token I’m glad nobody got killed. The building is immaterial to me. You can rebuild a building; you can’t rebuild lives.”
Grace said that his wife, Beatrice, also ran in to help the evacuation.
Grace said he and his stepson did not know the danger — or the extent of the damage — when they entered the building. He said he likely went beyond his duties as a building superintendent, who by policy are instructed to evacuate tenants “at a safe level” during emergencies.
“When I entered the building I was either going to come out or I wasn’t going to come out,” Grace said.
“I would have risked my life to save somebody else. My son felt the same way. We took a chance.”
“You’re in a situation. You don’t have time to think,” Abbott said. “You have to react.”
Police Sgt. Chris Giuliani said Grace and Abbott likely saved lives.
“They did a great job,” Giuliani said. “They deserve some praise.”
No tenants were injured or killed in the explosion and resulting fire, which was reported at about 9:45 p.m. Two firefighters were injured, one of whom complained of chest pains, and they were taken to St. Clare’s Hospital/Dover, police said.
The fire damaged the second and third floors and caused water and smoke damage to the first floor of building 5A. Police said the building is uninhabitable.
“It gutted about a third of the building,” mostly on the third floor, said Randolph Fire Chief Mark Roskam. The fire took about five hours to bring under control, he said. Firefighters left the scene about 5 a.m. Monday.
Police said a cause has not been determined, and Randolph detectives and the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office still are investigating.
Police said about eight or nine families were in the building at the time. Two of the families were provided with temporary shelter by the American Red Cross while the rest of the families found shelter with relatives or friends, police said.
Tenants in the adjoining building, 5B, also were evacuated, but they were allowed back into their apartments after the fire was extinguished.
Giuliani said he was the second to arrive at the scene, and he met with police Officer Keith Donovan. The officers walked to the southwest side of the building and discovered that the wall of a second-floor apartment had been blown out.
“There was a 10-by-15-foot piece of wall that had just been blown right out of the side of the building and was laying there on the ground beside the building,” Giuliani said.
The second-floor apartment that exploded, No. 5204, was unoccupied, as was the apartment above it, 5304, which was fully engulfed in flames by the time police arrived.
There are eight three-story buildings in the complex, each composed of two structures connected by a walking bridge. Each structure houses 12 units.
Abbott, 26, said that he and his father stopped in front of the door of apartment 5204. Abbott said he smelled gas, and the pair continued up to the third floor but were forced to leave because of smoke.
Grace said that while he did not smell gas, the incident was “definitely a gas explosion.”
Abbott said he and his father then came to the side of the building that had exploded and realized what had happened.
“It was pretty scary to come around and see what we were inside of,” Abbott said.
Firefighters from Dover, Rockaway, Mine Hill and Picatinny Arsenal assisted Randolph, while fire departments from Chester, Brookside and Denville were on standby at Randolph fire stations.