RIDGEFIELD, N.J. – A memorial filled with pride and sadness drew hundreds this weekend who recalled the tragic deaths 50 years ago of five Ridgefield firefighters in a Cliffside Park bowling alley blaze.
A quarter-mile procession that included apparatus from Ridgefield and neighboring towns -- including an original truck used to battle the Oct. 15, 1967 Cardinal Lanes Bowling Alley arson fire -- ended with a re-dedication of the Ridgefield Fallen Firemen Little League field off Route 5.
Each family of the fallen was presented with an anniversary plaque and a bouquet of flowers:
- Chief Gustave A. Genschow, 43, a 27-year veteran who owned a local tavern;
- Firefighter Dominick Acquafredda, 31, a four-year veteran who worked at the Lever Brothers plant in Edgewater;
- Firefighter Harry Brown, 26, a five-year veteran who worked for the New York Daily News;
- Firefighter James Edwards III, 35, who managed a trading stamp store;
- Firefighter James Lauria, 60, then Ridgefield's building inspector.
Attendees and speakers included firefighters and government officials – among them, Ridgefield Chief Peter O'Connor, Deputy Chief Michael Kees and Battalion Chief John Hoffman, Bergen County Executive James Tedesco and state Assemblywoman Marlene Caride.
Patty Stevens, a Cliffside Park resident who lived across from Cardinal Lanes, wrote a poem, “The Five Beneath the Wall,” that was recited during the ceremony. She, in turn, received a plaque for her dedication to the department.
Dozens of firefighters from throughout the eastern Bergen area who responded to the single-story Anderson Avenue building around 4 a.m. found smoke pouring from all sides.
The Ridgefield crew had stretched two hose lines to a rear door and headed in when an explosion collapsed the truss roof, toppling a concrete wall.
A civilian and 10 other firefighters also were injured as 130 of the bravest from eight communities battled the blaze.
The dead were identified at that Sunday morning's Mass at St. Matthew's Church.
Fourteen children under 21 years old were left fatherless. Some became firefighters, just like their dads.
The Cardinal Lanes fire helped change the way New Jersey fire safety codes are written and still remain enforced .
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