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Update: Clyne & Murphy Fire Hits Six-Alarm Status

Massive fire in downtown Westfield brought under control by firefighters.

Firefighters from across Union County continued to battle a massive five-alarm fire at the catering business in downtown Westfield late Sunday afternoon. The fire was reportedly brought under control by about 6:45 p.m.

An hour earlier, flames continued to shoot through the top of the building and a roof collapse was reported. The blaze destroyed at least six local businesses and a restaurant.

At about 5:45 p.m., heavy smoke continued to pour out of the catering company's building at 439 South Avenue West and flames could be seen from the roof of the structure as firefighters continued to douse the blaze. The cause of the fire is unknown but initial reports indicated that the fire may have begun in the loft area of the building. When contacted, the Westfield Fire Department still could not officially pinpoint the exact origin or cause of the blaze.

Fire departments from across the region responded to the call in Westfield. Ladder trucks and hoselines were out in full force to combat the blaze late Sunday afternoon. Fire Departments from Elizabeth, Cranford, Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Roselle, Roselle Park, Mountainside, New Providence, Berkeley Heights and Garwood provided mutual aid as emergency workers struggld to bring the blaze under control.

As firefighters worked to extinguish the fire, a stretch of South Ave West was closed from the traffic circle up to the Westfield Train Station. At 5:35 p.m., the street closures remained in effect.

Clyne & Murphy is located near a cleaners on the corner of South Avenue West and Westfield Avenue. Residents who stood a block away, watching the scene unfold, said approximately 25 years ago, a business called Roots was housed in what is now Clyne & Murphy. The corner structure also houses a shoe repair shop and the Sound Station record/CD store, among other businesses. Smoke from the fire spread through nearby neighborhoods and could be seen for at least a mile.

Armed with cameras, Joan Brennan, the wife of Westfield Fire Lt. Tim Brennan, watched with her children as her husband and other emergency workers worked to extinguish the fire.

"You never really get used to it, because we don't get that many (large fires) in town," Brennan said. "You really get the sense of the enormity of the situation when you see how many people are here."

Brennan said what makes it even more difficult is knowing that homes or businesses are being damaged because local firefighters  - due to safety regulations - are often forced to wait for mutual aid before they can enter a building. She believes that if the department had more manpower, such delays wouldn't be an issue.

This is the first major fire in Westfield of 2012. Last year, the six-alarm 's fire occurred in May and the Italian restaurant is still in the process of rebuilding.

Josy January 23, 2012 at 10:36 AM
Is there an official recap coming soon? Has there been any word on what started it yet? Is arson suspected at all? Were there any injuries in the end? Is Sherry's assertion that two residents and a kitten were relocated (but apparently not injured) correct? (And of course, my heart goes out to everyone who's been directly involved in this.)
A.John Blake January 23, 2012 at 11:46 AM
Please keep in mind that two more firemen are able to retire this year.Now is the time to tell the Administration that you want them replaced and supplemented.I have little doubt that the Council intends to quietly let attrition further reduce the number of firemen. The Council cannot keep telling us there has been no impact to Public Safety as the number of firemen drops.Be honest and admit they have chosen economy over safety. When the Council says things like "that's what insurance is for",you know the ability of the WFD to fight fires is knowingly being diminished . Let them have their expert appear at a Council meeting and tell us how firefighting has not been impaired.Allow him to answer questions. All credit should be given to the responding agencies but let us not forget the increased damage caused by the need of the WFD to wait for help from other towns.It is this increased damage, not to mention the danger to the firemen, that is the direct result of the Council's budget decisions. A.John Blake
Julia DeSantis January 23, 2012 at 12:06 PM
I saw the Linden squad there as well last night. They were on the northside of the circle.
John Kihoon Kang January 23, 2012 at 01:41 PM
http://kihoonkang.blogspot.com/2012/01/fire-in-westfield-clyde-and-murphy.html Credit to all the firefighters and rescue squad. Nicely done
jennifer January 23, 2012 at 02:41 PM
I take complete offense to Ken's statement. All of those peoples lives were wrapped up in those businesses. They just lost everything. Not one of those people owned the building and made a living out of serving Westfield and all surrounding areas. It is people like Ken who give a bad name to every person and assume something is suspicious. Maybe instead you could be thinking of the families and people that are now in need of help, who don't know where they will get money to survive. Small businesses don't have resources like corporations, they don't have retirement plans. Their income pays for their house, children, health insurance, etc. People should stop be ignorant and just want to create stories.
Jeff B January 23, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Ken, I share your view. Two total losses within plain sight of the fire department should get the immediate attention of the Mayor and Town Council. The fire department does not appear to be providing the service residents are reasonably entitled to expect and the issue should be promptly investigated and addressed.
Suzanne January 23, 2012 at 03:03 PM
Jennifer - I think maybe you're missing the point. The problem that those of us who live and/or work in Westfield have is inadequate fire protection. It appears that every time the town needs money for anything the first budget to be cut is the FD. Therefore, we have to rely on all of the other FD's in the county. Perhaps if we had enough firefighters on duty at any given time, they could get to a fire and control it before the building burns to the ground. As wonderful as the mutual aid departments are, they just can't get here as fast as needed. I feel terrible about the people who lost their livelyhoods, but, if we had the FD manpower that we need, they might not have lost everything.
jennifer January 23, 2012 at 03:10 PM
I think you are missing the point with what Ken said. Just read Ken's blog not anyone else. I also believe the budget should not have been cut, but Ken's blog does not point to that.
The Cynic January 23, 2012 at 03:21 PM
Jennifer, I totally agree with your comment regarding the small businesses operating in this building. This event is a disaster for these wonderful businesses and people who serve our communities. I know and admire these people. My comment is certainly not directed at them. I don't need to go any further on this matter because I do not know anything other than what I read. I am not making any allegations......it just seems strange to me that this fired occurred "after hours" in a manner similar to the Ferraro fire. Re-read your post and maybe you will find a clue as to what I might be thinking.
Jeff B January 23, 2012 at 03:22 PM
Suzanne, I have eaten at Clyne & Murphy's many times. This is a sad loss for the business people themselves, their families and for the community. However, I do not believe in coincidences. Two major losses in plain sight of the fire department should have every Westfield resident worried whether a small fire in the home could result in a total loss of the dwelling. I have no idea whether the problem is manpower, work rules, competence, or something else. However, there certainly appears to be some problem and it needs to be promptly addressed by the town.
The Cynic January 23, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Jeff B, these were both difficult fires to fight. There is NO reason at all to think that the responders did anything other than their very best to put the fire down as quickly as possible.....and I know that the PROFESSIONAL WFD is fully trained, practiced, and fully capable of doing a first rate job dealing with both fires....as well as other fires. Never, for a monent, would I think anything otherwise.
NR9 January 23, 2012 at 03:34 PM
Two issues have been confused as one. Jennifer rightly points out the sadness in this event. We should all realize how this event has and will profoundly affect the businesses/families who live/work at the location that has now been destroyed. The other issue is staffing of Westfield's fire dept. It has not yet been reported whether or not Westfield arrived at the scene and had to wait for mutual aid to arrive in order to begin battling the fire, as has been the case with several recent fires. Certainly, those from Westfield and neighboring communities should be commended for their excellent work, as always. Whether or not our politicians staffed/equipped our early responders appropriately, for the critical early stages of the fire, when the flames double in size every minute, remains to be known. Did Westfield's ladder truck go out or did it stay in the fire house again (due to inadequate staffing to operate it)? Does anybody know? I did see a Cranford ladder up in some of the pictures. Did Westfield have to wait for Cranford to arrive? As for Ken suggesting arson... I agree with Jennifer. Can't we first show some compassion for the residents/small business owners whose lives have now been so profoundly affected by this sad event? Can we, for a moment, assume all are innocent until proven guilty? The fire dept/ insurance companies will be doing their investigating. Can we first let them do their jobs before jumping to such conclusions.
Jeff B January 23, 2012 at 03:45 PM
I certainly did not think Ken was suggesting arson in these circumstances. Ferraro's was a very successful restaurant. My concern as a resident is how do two fires in plain sight of the fire department become out-of-control multi-alarm blazes resulting in a total loss - and the implication for the safety of homeowners and their property nowhere near the fire department. Something appears to need to be changed.
NR9 January 23, 2012 at 04:06 PM
Response to Jeff B. I agree with you 100%. Though it has not yet been reported when and how many Westfield firefighters were able to arrive right away and how long, if at all, they may have had to wait for mutual aid to arrive, several recent fires have made it clear that our fire dept. is very short-staffed. I wonder how many more full-time, professional firefighters could be hired with $1 million dollars? Probably a lot. Another $1,000,000 could be generated to hire and pay them with a really small increase in property taxes for our 10,000 households in Westfield. That calculates to just $100 more per household PER YEAR. $100 more per household per year divided by 365 days per year works out to just about 25-CENTS(!) more in property taxes PER DAY for each household. And, if such a small amount would make it more likely that a fully staffed fire department arrives to begin battling a fire in the critical first few minutes, then I think many people wouldn't mind parting with what really is pocket change (except maybe for a few who are dealing with the most extreme of financial difficulties). I can understand not wanting one's property taxes to go up by $1,000 or more per year for stuff that really isn't necessary. I cannot understand being penny wise and pound foolish about $100 per year (or less) being needed to protect peoples' lives and homes. As for Ken's comment, I think he was suggesting arson- He wrote: "If something smells suspicious....it probably is."
concerned citizen January 23, 2012 at 04:20 PM
I could be wrong, but I thought I saw the Westfield Ladder truck in the northside train station parking lot around 5:15 - 5:30 and two trucks in the bays at the firehouse. If this was due to manpower rules and the lack of funding to properly staff the department, there is something seriously wrong. Please tell me that I was wrong with my observations and that I just didn't know the whole story.
NR9 January 23, 2012 at 04:35 PM
@concerned citizen. I drove past the northside fire station a few minutes before you as I was picking someone up on a train arriving 4:59pm from Newark. I did notice, and am positive, that I saw a Summit fire truck parked in the right side bay (when you're facing the fire house). There was a New Providence fire truck parked in the middle bay. There was a Westfield fire truck in the left bay (the side closest to the train station). I was focusing on driving my car so I didn't notice which type of fire truck the Westfield one was (ladder truck or otherwise). But, I'm certain about the other town names- it caught my eye that two non-Westfield trucks were parked in the Westfield fire house. For what it's worth, there was a Roselle Park truck parked just to the left of the fire house in the station lot at that same time. If the ladder truck is the one that usually is parked in that left-hand bay, then you're probably right that the Westfield ladder truck may have sat this fire out once again, just as was the case with the Ferraro's fire across the street and other recent fires in Westfield.
Geminichic January 23, 2012 at 04:40 PM
We've had three major fires in the last year all resulting in total loss. During the Mountain Ave fire last April and Ferraro's there was not enough man power to bring out the ladder truck (which was totaled during Hurricane Irene) and yesterday would have been the same again. Perhaps the common thread is not as suspicious as it appears; perhaps the common thread is no fire inspection by the town after renovation. Does the town even have a Fire Safety dept anymore?
A.John Blake January 23, 2012 at 08:18 PM
It is obvious that the WFD and all other responding agencies should be commended for their work at this fire. Westfield has no ladder truck anymore. What happened to the insurance money paid on the claim has never been mentioned by the town. The majority of the people commenting are correct that the big question here is the manpower allowed by the Town Council.The Mayor has refused to allow the Fire Chief to address the people and be questioned on the Mayor's statement that their has been no impact on Public Safety by the lowered number of firemen.When criticism is made of the inability of the department to fight the fires, the Town spokesmen make it sound like the criticism is of the firemen. The Town then praises their punctuality without saying that ,after they arrived the WFD had to sit and wait for help. Fire doubles itself every minute it is not being suppressed.The Town Council has decided to mis-use the Mutual Aid Law and have other towns provide the manpower they refuse to pay.As a result,the flames will continue to build as trucks lumber in from Plainfield and Cranford.The Town Council refuses to pay attention to the rules of fire safety concerning quick response. The only thing citizens can do is bombard the Mayor and Council for real answers. A.John Blake
NR9 January 23, 2012 at 08:36 PM
As neighboring towns realize they too can take the cheap way out by relying less and less on their own fire departments, the day might come when our trucks and firefighters are helping out in Cranford or Scotch Plains or Mountainside when a call comes in within Westfield's borders and response times are even further delayed. Doing "more with less" is nice in theory but, in reality, you usually get "less with less." When it comes to safety, the mayor and town council should not be taking the penny-wise and pound-foolish approach.
The Cynic January 23, 2012 at 08:44 PM
NR9, poor choice of words from an old geezer.....my use of these words stems from a long used idiom "it doesn't pass the smell test".....which has it's origins in the smell of food for freshness; but more currently is used as related to the use of "common sense." See reference link below. No reference to the smell of smoke was intended. http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/smell_test
Just the facts January 23, 2012 at 09:17 PM
OMG apparently many of you have not heard of mutual aid! There is an agreement among towns that in case of a fire the "home" municipality response first to the fire. If they deem it above a certain category, they call in mutual aid....which means all neighboring towns respond. Some of the neighboring trucks go the "home" fire station just in case a second call comes in with a new emergency. I would imagine, given the pictures, a mutual aid call was put out immediately. In fact, nearly every Union County municipality tended to the Elizabeth Warehouse fire in addition to truck and personnel from neighboring Essex County. Some fires, no matter how much equipment or manpower you might have is beyond the capabilities of the home communities. As far as I'm concerned, and based only on the photo's, this fire (as well as Ferraro's) could not have been handled by the Westfield FD alone! You also have no idea how much of a start the fire had before the call even reached the station. I would imagine that the outcome of this fire would have been no different with or without any cuts in personnel (since I'm to assume they didn't sell any equipment).
NR9 January 23, 2012 at 09:30 PM
@Just the facts. Clearly, there was plenty of equipment/personnel- thanks to the system of mutual aid, which is a great system. The controversy relates to the amount of equipment/personnel that is available locally (in this case, a few blocks away) to be the first responders. There have been several recent situations in which the first responders arrived at a fire and then had to actually stand around and wait for the necessary number of firefighters to arrive from other towns in order to begin battling a blaze and instances when our ladder truck, just a block or a few blocks away, could not even be used due there being less than the required number of firefighters on shift at the time. Mutual aid is great. Seeing firetrucks and firefighters coming to help out is great. The issue is whether or not the WFD has been adequately staffed by our politicians so they may begin the battle right away on arrival. Eventually, mutual aid provides plenty of equipment/personnel, but only after the fire has gotten much bigger (fire doubles in size every 1 minute! -- getting there and getting started right away is critical!).
Gail A January 23, 2012 at 09:33 PM
Let's be happy that no one was seriously hurt in the fire. But sadly, what a shame that a Landmark such as Clyne&Murphy is now gone. I hope the property owner and all of the renters and re-group and come back even stronger. Good luck.
Emily Everson January 23, 2012 at 11:52 PM
Awesome work Liz and Toni! I would just like to add what a loss it is that Sound Station made it through the demise of cassettes, CDs, and the mp3 take over, all to be so horribly affected by this fire. Growing up in Fanwood, I would often venture to Sound Station and spend hours discovering new music or stopping in to pick up the latest album. A big thanks to all of the fire fighters and EMS who responded. Your hard work makes me proud to be a Union County resident!
Nick Nacks January 24, 2012 at 02:33 AM
If any of what I'm reading (about funding the WFD) is true, the Town should be ashamed! I'm not finger pointing or making accusations about arson, or saying WFD stood by until it had other towns to help fight the fire. But (this is a BIG but) is there any validity to the lack of funding for the fire department? I does seem that the first things cut during tight budgets are police and fire, which is a crime. But in a town like Westfield it is uncalled for. This town that will put thousands (tens? hundreds?) into banners, street scaping, iron railings near the train station, brick curbing, plants, parks, sports programs, etc., all very nice and also very UNnecessary if the fire department and/or EMS are having funds cut. Sure, you'll see the iron railings and landscaping, but when an emergency arises it's the fire department, police and EMS that will save your life, your home, your business. I'd like to hear from someone who knows more of the facts as to whether these budget cuts have resulted in a FD that really must wait for back up prior to effectively fighting a fire (and, some of the towns listed as back up in yesterday's fire rely on volunteers, what if they were short staffed?). And WHY is the WFD constantly running over to the high school? Every day, it seems like, lights & sirens blaring. Lastly, thank you, thank, you, THANK YOU!! to the police, firemen and other first responders who fought yesterday's fire. You are HEROES!!
Mike January 24, 2012 at 04:36 PM
Mutual aid is great, and should be encouraged. But I think the question Westfield residents need answered is: if there is a fire in my home and my family needs help, will the Westfield FD stand around outside waiting for mutual aid to arrive before they begin fighting the fire or not? The average Westfield resident believes that the FD will immediately get to work, but I am not so sure anymore. Sounds like we are on our own for longer than we think. I hope it doesn't take a loss of life to get that question answered.
Sally McBride January 24, 2012 at 07:02 PM
how stupid is this comment? Not saying this is the case here, but there are FD that have been over funded for years as political favors. Shareen, are you willing to pay for all of this? Or should someone else have to pay?
Sally McBride January 24, 2012 at 07:04 PM
Sounds like it is time to have a county wide fire department and get rid of all of the separate ones. Seems like that is what we have right now. And with the added savings from removing the clerical overlap, we can hire more guys for the real work
Mike Brindle January 24, 2012 at 08:40 PM
I beileve Hillside FD also sent over a truck and crew to help. So sad that a Westfiled icon like that is gone. For those of us who were high schoolers in the '70s; Roots was to us what Arnolds was to Richie Cunnighnam and the gang from Happy Days. So sad and hope the businesses can recover and re-group. Mike HTHS'77
NR9 January 25, 2012 at 12:22 AM
Response to Michael Morano- My understanding is, if they have reason to suspect one or more people may be inside, the first responders, even if short-staffed (under 4), will go inside to attempt rescue. However, if they are positive that everyone has managed to escape safely, they must wait until there are 4 firefighters (in total, incl. from the other Westfield fire house or neighboring towns). Assuming for a moment that everyone manages to get out safely before the fire dept. arrives, firefighters waiting around for mutual aid to arrive could mean the difference between partial damage or complete destruction to a home/business. And, if the flames were to get further out of control while firefighters are waiting, neighboring properties/inhabitants become increasingly at risk as well. Recently, there was a home fire (on Cumberland Street I think) where all residents escaped safely before the first responders arrived. But, with less than 4 firefighters having arrived, those first responders had to just stand there and wait. It was reported that the homeowner pleaded with the firefighters to begin battling the flames but, following the rules, they were not allowed to start. The other issue is that a certain number of firefighters are needed to operate the ladder truck and, under current staffing levels, the ladder truck usually just sits in the fire house. During the Ferraro's fire, the ladder truck remained parked at the fire house, less than a block away, for that reason.

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