Morristown cop rescues dog from apartment house fire

A lucky dog may owe its life to Morristown Police Officer Mark Popalawski, who rescued it from a burning apartment building, Nov. 4, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Dogs are man’s best friend, the saying goes. But a policeman was a dog’s best friend on Monday, during a smoky fire in Morristown.

Rooftop view of firemen extinguishing blaze at 6 Maple Ave., Nov. 4 , 2019. Photo by Tom Werder/ Morris Arts.

As flames licked the exterior of 6 Maple Ave., sending plumes of black smoke billowing into the crisp November sky, Officer Mark Popalawski dashed into the apartment building to see if anyone was trapped.

In a second floor living room, he found a dog, inside a crate.

“I could tell he was scared,” said Popalawski, who got the black-haired pooch outside. Instructors from The Seeing Eye, who happened to be working on the street, took the crated pet for safekeeping until it was reunited with its owner at the scene.

Nobody was injured. The fire, reported at 9:28 am, appeared to start in a trash can or recycling bin in an alley, and then shoot up the outside wall and into the attic, said Morristown Fire Chief Robert Flanagan.  He said the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office is investigating.

Fire damage at 6 Maple Ave., Nov. 4, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Children next door, in a basement counseling center for kids with special needs, got out quickly, said Dolores Shearer, business manager for Spectrum Consulting.

“Thank God nobody was hurt,” she said.

It took firefighters about 45 minutes to control the three-alarm blaze, Flanagan said. Firefighters from Morris Township, Madison, Cedar Knolls and Morris Plains also responded, he said. Market Street was closed to traffic all morning.

Police arrived first, and were assisted knocking on doors by Seeing Eye instructor Sarah Indano , said Dave Johnson, the Seeing Eye’s director of instruction.

“She was running door to door with the cops,” Johnson said, adding that another dog–possibly a small German shepherd mix, on a slip-leash–also was rescued from the building, by Seeing Eye personnel.

“That dog was terrified,” Johnson said. It was handed over to animal control officers until its owner could be located, he said.

Firefighters battle blaze at 6 Maple Ave., Nov. 4 2019. Photo by Tom Werder/ Morris Arts.

The  Seeing Eye has an office at 14 Maple Ave., close to the fire scene.  As instructor Julie Siragusa dialed 911 to report smoke in the alley, the fire “exploded” up the side of the apartment building, Johnson recounted.

A man is reunited with his dog after an apartment fire on Maple Avenue. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

At the corner of Maple Avenue and Market Street, employees and customers in the Bloom hair salon were alerted by construction workers who saw smoke from their perch atop the new apartment complex on Market Street.

They scrambled to the salon, and pulled a fire alarm inside, said Bloom General Manager Samantha Pilcher.

“Those guys saved the day,” said Pilcher, who said she didn’t smell smoke until after the alarm was pulled.

Dee Snook of Bernardsville was among the customers who evacuated the salon.

“I said to my kids, ‘I haven’t gotten a haircut in two years, and this is what happens!'” Snook said, happy she was able to joke about it.

This was the third Morristown fire in recent weeks to start outside a structure. In the same night in September, a house burned on Ridgedale Avenue, followed by a pre-dawn fire at a law office on Washington Street. A source told Morristown Green evidence of an accelerant was found outside the Washington Street blaze.

UPDATE: The September fires remain under investigation, said a spokesperson for the Prosecutor’s Office. While the county is participating in Monday’s investigation, she referred further questions about that one to local authorities.

Morristown Police Officer Mark Popalawski. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Officer Popalawski, who joined the Morristown police force four-and-a-half years ago, has a soft spot for canines. When he was growing up in Parsippany, his family owned rescue dogs, said the 34-year-old policeman.

The flames and smoke had not yet penetrated the Maple Avenue building when he entered, though he said he could see the fire through a window.

Most people might think twice before charging into a burning house. Not Popalawski.

“The concern is hopefully getting to anybody who might be in there before anything tragic happens,” he said.

Morristown Fire Chief Robert Flanagan at Maple Avenue fire scene, Nov. 4, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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