Fire at Sparta Ambulance Squad building

| 22 Feb 2012 | 08:47

    Early reports: oxygen tank responsible, By Fran Hardy Sparta — Public volunteers, usually responsible for helping others, were in need of help themselves Monday evening when a blaze suddenly engulfed the service bay area of the Sparta Ambulance Squad building at 14 Sparta Ave. Along with the Sparta Fire Department, the Jefferson Township Fire Department, the Ogdensburg Fire Department, and the Ogdensburg First Aid Squad responded. Officials said the two ambulances parked in the service bays were completely destroyed and one first responder’s vehicle was extensively damaged. Authorities reported people were in the building at the time of the blaze, including a yoga class in the meeting room, but no one was injured. The cause of the fire is being investigated, but early reports indicate the fire started onboard one of the ambulances while an oxygen tank was being checked for pressure. Investigators from the New Jersey State Police Arson/Bomb Unit will continue the investigation. Sparta Police reported Tuesday that the matter has been turned over to the Sussex County Prosecutor’s office. Lt. Diane Brookhart from the prosecutor’s office said, “Preliminarily, the fire appears to be non-suspicious, but the investigation will be ongoing.” The front of the building appeared charred and heavily damaged after the fire was extinguished. Damage to the rest of the building, including the upper portion that includes a meeting room, was confined to water and smoke damage. The side and rear of the building appear unaffected by the flames. Sparta Mayor Brian Brady was on the scene shortly after the fire broke out and said Sparta firefighters were first on the scene and had the fire under control within minutes and the entire blaze was out within a half an hour. “We’re very pleased no one was hurt. It could have been so much worse.” Brady also said municipalities from other counties heard about the incident and offered the use of ambulances and equipment until the two squads that were lost can be replaced. Jimmy Storms, an 18-year-old waiter working at Homer’s Restaurant next door to the ambulance building at the time of the blaze, said he smelled something burning and thought the restaurant was on fire. Then he heard the commotion next door and ran outside to find police already on the scene. He said, “There was smoke everywhere and I heard people screaming. I heard some small explosions, too. It was jaw-dropping!” Sparta Police say emergency services will continue for area residents with mutual aid dispatched from surrounding communities as needed. Sparta still has one ambulance in service. Officials say the two squads that were destroyed were insured by the township and could cost $200,000 each to replace.