Jim Sutton believes in doing whatever it takes to get the job done.
Even if that means scrambling up flights of stairs. With a bum knee. To put out a fire.
That’s what Jim did on Tuesday, extinguishing a blazing air conditioning unit in the attic of the historic Morris County Courthouse.
“I was just doing my job,” insisted Jim, 49, a maintenance and repair supervisor who has worked for the county for about a dozen years.
Jim happened to be near the courthouse in Morristown when he got a call about the fire alarm shortly before 10 a.m.
An alarm panel isolated the problem in an attic above court room number one, famed for the 1833 triple-murder trial of Antoine LeBlanc and later, for the trial of cop-killer Joanne Chesimard.
Turns out Jim was the right man in the right place at the right time. Not only does he know how to use a fire extinguisher–he is a former Victory Gardens volunteer fireman–but he also knows the location of every single one of them in more than 50 Morris County buildings. He inspects the extinguishers every month.
“There was a lot of smoke. I could see flames underneath the (air conditioner) motor. My first reaction was to get the fire out,” said the county worker, who has three grown children.
Any day now, Jim will undergo surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. Fortunately for the county, Tuesday was not that day. The Hackettstown resident explained that he damaged the knee while speed-walking on a treadmill (4 ½ miles per day on a 10 percent incline), and now is reduced to “speed-hobbling.”
The injury did not stop him from hobbling up to the smoky attic in record time.
“That’s the kind of guy he is–giving 110 percent all the time,” said Chris Walker, superintendent of buildings and grounds for the county.
Jim was assisted by a Morris County Sheriff’s Officer–in the commotion, Jim did not catch his name–and he added that the “phenomenal” Morristown Fire Department arrived within moments.
County officials said a motor overheated and ignited in a blower that draws air into the air conditioning unit. Jim said a few blasts from the fire extinguisher–conveniently situated near the top of the stairs–quelled the blaze.
Chris Walker called the fire a “freak occurrence” and estimated the faulty equipment was about 20 years old. It’s impossible to inspect every electric motor in county buildings, he said. “Even if you could look inside, it might not tell you anything,” he said.
Employees were allowed back inside the courthouse around 11 a.m.
The fire department cleared out the smoke with heavy-duty fans. Only a faint smell of smoke lingered in the attic by Tuesday afternoon.
That portion of the building dates to 1827. Stored near the fire scene were pieces of the gallows that are believed to have been used to hang Antoine LeBlanc on the Morristown Green, before a huge crowd, for robbing and killing Judge Samuel Sayre, his wife Sara and their maid (or slave), Phoebe.
Going the extra mile–on a bad leg–is a form of job security, according to Jim, who drives a snow plow in winter and tries to learn all he can about every county building.
“It’s just like the Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “They have to make sure everyone is protected and well. That’s our job, too.”
On Tuesday, that job included replacing one slightly used attic fire extinguisher with a fresh one. Just in case anyone is called upon to hobble up those stairs again.