By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
An electrical fire was burning for at least 45 minutes before it was discovered at the Metropolitan apartments in Red Bank Tuesday evening, Fire Marshal Stanley Sickels said.
The fire, reported just before 7 p.m. Tuesday, started in a feeder cable to the second-story apartment’s electrical control panel, he said.
Because it broke out in the ceiling, no one was aware of the fire until it was too late.
“It definitely had been going for a while,” Sickels said.
As of 10 p.m., no one in the 37-unit apartment building was allowed back into their homes. Residents were likely to spend the night elsewhere, said building manager Joe Abbruzzese.
A sprinkler repair company was called in for emergency repairs to the building’s sprinkler system, he said.
“I want it up and running tonight,” he said.
Sickels said tenants would likely be allowed back in their units tomorrow.
Fire inspectors were working well into the night Tuesday and probably the early hours of Wednesday morning to help restore the Wallace Street building’s fire detection and suppression systems, Sickels said.
When emergency responders arrived on scene, at apartment 205, the unit was already filled with smoke and dripping water from the ceiling, Fire Chief John Mego said.
Two borough police officers narrowly escaped serious injury when they made it to the call.
“I got as far as the kitchen. I couldn’t get out, the smoke was so heavy,” Mego said.
Sickels said a sprinkler pipe in the ceiling above the apartment burst at some point during the fire, but because of heavy insulation designed to withstand high heat, no alarms were triggered.
“That pipe actually ruptured and contained the fire until we could get in there,” he said. “It could’ve been a lot worse.”
The apartment’s tenant, Todd Tretsky, was just returning home from his job in New York City when he saw smoke in the second-floor apartment. His fiancée, Michele Williams, was out in the hallway playing with their dog.
“I thought she was cooking or something,” Tredsky, 40, said.
When they realized it was a fire, they called 911 and Red Bank police officers arrived just at the time a ceiling collapsed, just missing the two patrolmen. Firefighters then evacuated the building, sending people and their pets out onto Wallace Street wondering when, and if, they’d be allowed back inside.
One man walked down Wallace and onto Broad with a small suitcase, “just in case” he had to spend the night soomewhere else, he said.
Others looked on as firefighters drained a hose of dishwater-gray liquid out the second-story window and shoveled remnants from the apartment onto the sidewalk.
Norah Forsythe , who lives on the second floor, said she was in her apartment with her 20-month-old son when the rest of the building was alerted to what was going on.
“It was the police, they said it might be a fire next door,” she said. “Then all you could hear was fire, fire, fire.”
Sickels said the fire caused heavy damage to the apartment, and it may have extended to the hallway and an office space below.
Tredsky, despite the traumatic experience, kept his head cool throughout the night, and planned on finding a hotel to stay in until he could return to his apartment, which he moved into three months ago, and begin the insurance claim process.
“What am I going to do, cry over spilled milk?” he said. “We were lucky it wasn’t at night.”