LOWER TOWNSHIP — An early-morning fire Monday killed a woman at The Channels Apartments on Bayshore Road in North Cape May, and fire officials say the age of the building may have been a factor.
The woman, whose name has not been released pending notification of next of kin, was dead when firefighters gained entry into the ground-floor apartment, said Battalion Chief Dekon Fashaw, who serves as public information officer for the Town Bank Volunteer Fire Company.
The fire remains under investigation.
Fashaw said fire companies from Town Bank, Erma and Villas responded and put out the fire quickly.
The woman was removed from the house and given to the Lower Township Rescue Squad and AtlantiCare medics, but she was pronounced dead at the scene.
Fashaw said the outcome may have been different in a more modern apartment complex. Newer codes require sprinkler systems and fire alarms to go directly to central dispatch. The Channels Apartments has no sprinklers.
He said the fire wasn’t reported until a neighbor heard a smoke detector sounding and called 911. The fire company was called at 12:47 a.m.
The building is up to code for its time, Fashaw said, but legislation has made the code stricter for new buildings.
“I think it could have given us a better advantage and maybe saved her life. With central dispatch, we get there quicker. There’s less damage, and maybe we save her life,” he said.
The first into the building included four Town Bank firefighters, two veterans and two younger ones. Fashaw said it was the first body removal for the younger firefighters. He said that if any counseling is needed there are programs through the fire company and the state, and that fatal fires do have an impact on firefighters.
“We know our jobs,” he also noted.
The structure fire brought an all-call alarm to all three township fire companies. They arrived to find smoke coming out of the woman’s apartment.
Fashaw said the fire started in the living room. A charred sofa was still sitting on the grass next to the apartment at 7:30 a.m. No cause has been given, but the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office, county Fire Marshal’s Office and Lower Township police are investigating.
The unit suffered extensive smoke and fire damage. Fashaw said three other units suffered smoke damage. The Red Cross helped house three families who were displaced.
The Channels Apartments is one of the more affordable housing options in the area, with one-bedroom apartments starting at $825 per month and two bedrooms at $895.
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