27 nuns, 2 priests safe in Englewood Cliffs retirement community fire
TARIQ ZEHAWI/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Residents were taken to various other facilities owned by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace after the fire on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016.
By NICK PUGLIESE and MATTHEW McGRATH
ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, NJ — An elevator shaft on Wednesday morning carried fire and smoke up from a utility building and into a four-story retirement home for the Congregation of Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.
Posted on the St. Peter's University web site
"The Englewood Cliffs Campus is closed until further notice due to a fire at the convent. Additional information will be sent out in regard to this campus as soon as it becomes available."
Sister Francis Scanlon, who lives on the building’s fourth floor, was alerted when the smell of smoke wafted into her room.
The fire consumed a building on the campus of St. Michael’s Villa.
“Wednesday we get bacon, and I said, boy, the bacon is getting burned this morning,” said Scanlon, 80.
She was able to get out in enough time to avoid danger and praised first responders for their help throughout the morning.
Mayor Mario Kranjac, who was with the sisters after they left their rooms, also praised first responders.
“Our firefighters did a fantastic job and they were supported nicely by our police,” Kranjac said. “It was nice to see everyone working together.”
When first responders arrived at about 7 a.m., a two-story steel frame building that housed a generator and air conditioning units was ablaze. Several cars parked in the lot next to the building were on fire, too.
First responders went room to room making sure that all residents had been evacuated, Chief Michael Cioffi said.
In all 27 sisters and two priests were evacuated from their main building and infirmary to the campus gym.
The campus has several buildings. The main structure is a four-story building where many of the nuns lived. Across the parking lot there is a U-shaped infirmary with 22 beds for nuns who need around-the-clock care. A gymnasium and space for classrooms is also on the campus and is leased by St. Peter’s University. The building that caught fire is a two-story building that just housed a generator and air-conditioning units. A breezeway connected the main building to the infirmary.
About 50 people live on the campus, which is also Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace headquarters. The convent provides assisted-living and nursing home services. Some 80 people, that included the nuns, infirmary and university staff, were gathered in the gym
Scanlon added that other residents of the retirement community were upbeat after the fire.
“They're all so happy to be safe,” Scanlon said. “The house can be repaired.”
Many people were gathered for a morning Mass in the infirmary when the fire started, one sister said, which aided the evacuation process.
“Thank God they were all together,” said Sister Maureen D’Auria, a 74-year-old psychiatric nurse, who was coming to the campus for a meeting.
Cioffi said every floor of the four-story retirement residence had sustained some damage.
In addition, some windows in the infirmary were broken by the heat, Cioffi said, causing smoke to enter the infirmary and nurses to evacuate the building.
“The sisters are all fine,” he said. “Their caregivers are fine. Everybody here — everybody — did a great job.”
The Bergen County Prosecutor's Office is investigating the exact cause of the fire with assistance from Englewood Cliffs detectives, he said. Cioffi, however, said earlier in the day that the fire did not appear to be suspicious.
The fire appears to have started in a two-story building that holds a generator and the air-conditioning units. When officers arrived, that building and several cars parked in a lot beside it were on fire.
As fire traveled up the elevator shaft, all four floors filled with smoke and the top floor was set ablaze. A cat belonging to one of the nuns died from smoke inhalation, said Kranjac, the mayor.
“That is the one tragedy we’re dealing with here,” he said. “But everyone else is fine.”
A yellow Labrador named Charlie made it out safely and is helping to console the sisters, Kranjac said.
Some of the 10 people who were evacuated from the infirmary were later taken to Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, which is affiliated with St. Michael’s Villa, Cioffi said. Others will be taken to Catholic nursing and retirement homes in Saddle River and Jersey City.
Many students were likely not on campus because classes are typically scheduled in the evening, a university spokeswoman said.
Kranjac added that personnel from 11 agencies responded to the fire, including Teaneck, Palisades Park, Cliffside Park, Fort Lee, Ridgefield, Hackensack, Tenafly, Leonia, the Palisades Interstate Park Police, New Jersey EMS and Bergen County Office of Emergency Management.
Retirement home for nuns destroyed by fire in Englewood Cliffs
by Christie Duffy, Updated at 05:00pm, October 12, 2016
ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J. — Nuns were evacuated by the busload from St. Michael’s Villa and an infirmary Wednesday as flames spread through their home, fire officials said.
The fire began outside Wednesday morning, about 7 a.m., but quickly spread into a structure that connects the infirmary to the nuns' quarters, according to the Englewood Cliffs fire chief.
Smoke shot up an elevator shaft, forcing the fire to rage all the way to the fourth floor.
Sister Francis Scanlon, 80, said that all those who could self-evacuate prayed as they went.
“Oh yeah, we were shooting them up," she said. "The prayers were flying!”
About a third of the nuns are too elderly to walk. The oldest is 97. Those who did get out on their own, left in their pajamas and robes.
“The smoke was beginning to pile up the stairs,” Scanlon said.
First responders safely evacuated the immobile nuns from the 5-story building.
“Every floor has sustained some damage,” Englewood Fire Chief Michael Cioffi said. “No one was seriously hurt. Just several officers suffered some smoke inhalation, and they’re on oxygen. They haven’t gone to the hospital.”
Nurses and a priest also made it out safely.
"They’re all so happy to be safe. The house can be repaired,” Scanlon said. “God bless you all."