Local man escapes blaze, thanks to neighbor

Borough fire marshal responded to screams from down the street


Staff Writer

SOUTH RIVER — An early morning electrical fire left a borough couple without a home Monday.

But thanks to the help of one man now being billed as a hero, they both escaped with their lives.

Unable to flee his Prentice Avenue home due to the heavy smoke and flames, Edward Sorensen was rescued from his bedroom window by nearby resident Stanley Ruzicki, who also happens to be the borough’s fire marshal. Ruzicki was at home when he heard Edward’s wife Barbara crying for help from outside her house shortly before 6 a.m.

Ruzicki said he had barely awakened and was just starting his day when he heard Barbara’s screams coming from down the street. He said the only reason he heard the noise was because his window was open a crack.

“At first, I thought it was a cat,” said Ruzicki, a borough firefighter for the last 33 years and fire marshal for the last five. “But I got dressed and went outside to be sure. I went out front and didn’t see anything. Then I heard another cry, this one sounded more frantic. I ran to the back yard and saw a column of smoke, [so] I ran down the street to follow the smoke.”

That was when Ruzicki said he saw Barbara Sorensen in the driveway screaming for help. Ruzicki asked her if anyone else was inside, and she said her husband Edward was trapped in the bedroom. Edward could be seen from outside at the window.

“I asked if there was another way out,” Ruzicki said. “[Edward] said there was too much heat and flames in the kitchen. So we basically tried to get him out the bedroom window.”

In the back yard, Ruzicki found some old plastic coolers, which he stacked underneath the bedroom window to assist in getting Edward out the window and down to the ground.

“I told him, ‘Stay with me. We’ll get you out. Just stay with me and help me,’ ” Ruzicki said.

Once Ruzicki got Edward, whom he described as being nearly twice his size, out of the house, the fire began to spread more quickly through the entire house, Ruzicki recalled.

“It just took off,” he said. “We had to get away from the house.”

All three went to a neighbor’s yard and waited for an ambulance.

Though firefighters were able to put out the blaze in an hour, the house was completely gutted in what the fire department believes was an electrical fire that began in the living room.

The Sorensens were transported to St. Peter’s University Hospital, New Brunswick, for treatment. Police said they observed both having difficulty breathing due to smoke inhalation, and Barbara had a small laceration over her left eye.

It could have been far worse. Councilman Arthur Londensky, who was at the scene later, said it was fortunate that no lives were lost.

“[Ruzicki] saved somebody’s life. He put his life on the line,” said Londensky, himself a 30-year veteran of the fire department and a previous fire marshal. “He had to do some quick thinking.”

Ruzicki said firefighters’ training brings the ability to act first and think later.

“You just learn to react,” he said. “You have a job to do, you get it done. It seems like time stands still. You can think about it later.”

“It’s a wonderful thing he did,” Londensky said. “He’s a hero, though he doesn’t want to admit it.”

Ruzicki said he doesn’t worry about things like being called a hero.

“I just thank God everybody’s safe,” he said. “You can always replace property; you can’t replace lives.”

Ruzicki added that many other people were involved in fighting the fire, including many firefighters from the borough and other fire departments. The police department and Rescue Squad also responded and helped at the scene.

“I’m sure the community is very proud of them,” Ruzicki said. “You just do what you have to do.”