On the night before Independence Day, Bellmawr Fire Department volunteers were busy fielding multiple calls during the evening’s heavy storms. Bellmawr Fire Department Captain Dan DiRenzo said: “During the height of the storm, we were running calls — flooding, water rescues… [when] a lady pulls up to the firehouse and says: ‘The school is on fire down the street.'”
The first responders were getting ready to go out on a water rescue, but immediately switched gears by taking their dry suits off and going into firefighting mode.
As soon as they arrived at Ethel Burke School on the Black Horse Pike, DiRenzo said there was fire showing from the attic space at the top of the school. “Unofficially, it looks like possible lightning strike.”
Firefighters had to force entry into the school and stretch about 300 feet of hose through and up into the attic space hoping to get to the fire, DiRenzo said. “We had to use our new ladder truck. She was able to get in the back to get up in position. We [also] had ladders on it. We hit it from underneath and we hit it from above. We were able to stop it from further spreading. We were worried about the wind. We were worried about the fire blowing. We were worried about this thing taking out the whole roof of the school.”
As for the final damage, DiRenzo said it is restricted to the roof area and there is water and smoke damage to the classrooms. “The school was vacant. All the firemen are safe and there were no injuries,” he added.
Councilman and former school board member, Jim D’Angelo, was on the scene and credits the firefighters for saving the school. “Their response time is what saved the building. These guys came in and attacked that fire. The wood up in the crawl space is the original wood. If it would’ve caught fire, it would’ve gone up like a torch.”
School superintendent, Annette Castiglione, said: “I am grateful to the entire public safety community and especially Bellmawr’s finest. Their immediate response and expertise in putting out the fire saved our school. Thankfully, no one was injured and all will have a safe Independence Day.”
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