Chapter Two: A dangerous situation
Hose Company No. 2 arrived at the fire scene first, the huge Ariel-Baker platform fire truck rumbling through the guarded gate and into the plush interior landscape of Harmon Cove. Their vehicle, painted red with a black top to the cab, seemed out of place in the park-like setting, a red giant rolling through narrow roads that rarely saw anything larger than a Mercedes sports utility vehicle.
A woman living in one of the hundreds of townhouses nestled into groves of trees. In some ways, the exclusive community remembered Central Park, where paths and roads rarely made a straight line, weaving instead to give the impression of a world well beyond the confines of a town like Secaucus.
A woman had called the police earlier to report the smell of smoke. While this was January and smoke not uncommon because of the numerous fire places used in the townhouses, the woman said this smoke smelled different, and she was worried about her downstairs neighbor -- someone who didn't respond to her calls. Police officers, who routinely arrive moments before the fire engines also tried the door bell, and when they also failed to elicit a response, they circled the building, then saw the rear wall glowing orange -- from an ongoing fire inside.
Deputy Mayor John Reilly, who was also a firefighter, later attributed the cause to candle, which ignited the wall.
Just about the time firefighters finished extinquishing the blaze, one of the chiefs started shouting, causing several firefighters to complain to Reilly. The chief appeared to be drunk.
Although the fire risked no life and was quickly extinguished, Reilly said he felt the seriousness of the matter and the potential safety to chief and other firefighters warranted his reporting the matter.
"When the firefighters came to me saying he was acting disorderly and talking irrationally, I went to the other chiefs," Reilly said.
Although no fire fighter made a formal complaint, Reilly, a fire fighter and the council liaison to the fire department, said he felt the matter be addressed.
"I felt it was my duty to make the chief aware of what had been said," Reilly said. "They told Frank not to respond to any more fires that night."
We don't know why he acted the way he acted," said Town Administrator Anthony Iacono later. "He could have been reacting badly to stress. Screaming and yelling may be the way some people handle stress in a situation like that."
The principle chief and several other high ranking officers confronted allegedly drunken man, and told him not to respond to any more fires that night.
"We took the action as a precaution," Iacono said. "I can't confirm or deny any of the rumors. No one tested the man. No charges were filed."
According to George Heflich, a fire fighter on the scene and the former fire chief, this was the second time the fire department had a problem with the chief on the scene of a fire.
"Last year, they took him home from a meadow fire," Heflich said.
The chief in question was in line to become the next overall chief, someone who would oversee the whole department.