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Father tosses baby from window to first responders as fire rages through Southridge apartments in South Brunswick

SOUTH BRUNSWICK – A father threw his baby from a second floor window down to police and firefighters in the Southridge Woods apartment complex in South Brunswick on March 7.

At 8:17 a.m., South Brunswick police received numerous 911 calls reporting a fire in Building 1 of the apartment complex off Route 522 in the Monmouth Junction section of the township, according to information provided by the South Brunswick Police Department.

All three South Brunswick fire companies – Monmouth Junction, Kendall Park and Kingston – responded to the fire.

Arriving police officers and firefighters observed heavy fire coming from the second and third floor balconies and starting to spread up the outside of the building into the attic space, according to reports.

Building residents were reporting people still inside the 24-unit building, with the common hallway rapidly filling with smoke, officials said.

Within minutes, a father and son appeared at a second floor window, unable to escape their apartment, police said. The father broke the window and dropped his son to first responders waiting below.

Sgt. William Merkler, Patrolman First Class Ryan Bartunek, Detective Sgt. John Penney and Fire Chief Chris Perez ran below the window and caught the child.

Seconds later the father jumped headfirst from the second floor window and was caught by the officers, according to the statement.

The child and the father sustained what were described by officials as minor injuries.

Meanwhile, firefighters entered the building to perform primary searches, but were forced to exit the structure due to the heavy fire conditions in the rear of the building, officials said.

The rapidly spreading fire caused the third floor rear balcony and a section of the roof to collapse, according to the statement.

Master streams of water from three aerial fire trucks were used to extinguish the fire, according to the statement.

Approximately 50 firefighters from Monmouth Junction, Kingston, Kendall Park, Plainsboro, Jamesburg, Monroe Township, Brookview and North Brunswick Co. No. 2 responded to the three-alarm blaze.

Firefighters from Old Bridge, Montgomery and Griggstown covered the South Brunswick fire stations during the incident.

“This was a total team effort to extinguish this fire and ensure all occupants were able to escape,” Monmouth Junction Fire Chief Scott Smith said in the statement. “We were faced with extremely heavy fire conditions immediately on arrival, along with reports of people still inside. Fortunately, all of the occupants were able to escape the fire. If this fire was earlier in the morning when people may have still been asleep, the outcome could have easily been tragic.”

“It was a wonderfully coordinated effort between the police and fire department, and all the residents got out safely, and nobody was hurt during the event, and they caught the baby and the dad,” Councilwoman Jo Hochman said during the Township Council meeting on March 8.

The fire is under investigation by the South Brunswick Township Fire Safety Bureau.

The fire left six apartments uninhabitable. In total, 20 people, including nine children, lost their homes. The American Red Cross was on scene March 7 helping the nearly 50 people who were displaced by the blaze.

Mayor Charlie Carley said during the Township Council meeting on March 8 that the township’s Human Intervention Fund has about $250,000 that can be used to support the victims of the fire. He said the effort would require action by the township manager because usually there is a restriction of only allocating $500 at a time.

Carley also directed a coordinated relief effort in conjunction with the South Brunswick School District to help the families impacted by the fire.

“I am so thankful everyone made it out of the apartment building, but many lost everything. I have directed our Social Services Department to take the lead in our relief efforts. They will be providing immediate financial assistance, gift cards and food,” Carley said in a statement released March 9. “Our community consistently rallies to help those in need and we will do it again with our fire victims.”

“The families are most in need of gift cards (to) Walmart, Target, Amazon, Stop & Shop (and) ShopRite. They lost everything. Some of the school-age children went to class and returned to nothing,” Jeanne Wert, director of social services, said in the statement.

Social services has set up two locations where gift cards may be dropped off: the South Brunswick municipal building in the social services office, 540 Ridge Road, Monmouth Junction; or the South Brunswick Community Center, 124 New Road, Monmouth Junction.

The South Brunswick School District is accepting donations at all schools. Or, mail gift cards to South Brunswick Social Services, P.O. Box 190, Monmouth Junction, NJ 08852. Donations will be collected through March 18.

For more information, email jwert@sbtnj.net

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