General Alarm Sounded For Constitution Hill Fire

6 December, 1989 (~estimated)

General Alarm Sounded For Constitution Hill Fire

A general alarm was sounded Tuesday afternoon at 1:08 for a potentially-dangerous propane fire in a Constitution Hill East building that houses five apartments.

At the time. no one was home in apartment No. 5, where workmen were installing outside Bilco doors in a basement stairwell. Princeton Fire Chief Mark Freda reported there was some malfunction with a 100-pound metal propane tank. “Whether it was the regulator or the connecting hose to the heating unit, we have not been able to determine yet,” he said.

A general alarm was sounded — the first, Chief Freda guessed, in several months —because of the potential for an explosion. “It was very dangerous; it could have caused a lot of structural damage,” he said, if the remaining 50 pounds of propane in the tank had exploded.

As it was, damage was largely confined to the stairwell and inside the basement. There was also some minimal damage to the first floor and smoke damage, Chief Freda said.

Hissing Noise

According to Ptl. Robert Toole, who conducted the investigation for Township police, workmen were using a propane-fueled, blower-heater with a self-contained flame to Warm the area, which was not heated. None of the workmen were in the basement when, around 1, they heard a hissing noise and saw fire coming from the tank.

The foreman called 911 but, unfortunately, was switched around a number of times, Ptl. Toole said, because 911 is not in effect in the Borough or Township. Finally, at 1:05, the foreman reached Township police. Ptl. Toole and Ptl. William Potts — at the scene — called for a general alarm three minutes later.

The apartments are located in the old Junius P. Morgan mansion that was turned into condominiums about a decade ago. They are somewhat remote and firemen had to run, hoses from Elm Road down Elm Lane to reach the site. The grounds were littered with spaghetti-like hoses. Traffic was detoured away from the scene until the danger of an explosion was past.

Firemen from all three Princeton companies left the scene about 3 p.m.

PROPANE FIRE BACKDROP: Serving as a backdrop to Princeton firemen containing a propane tank fire Tuesday on Constitution Hill is this former mansion that has been converted to condominiums.

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