Tragic Structural Collapse: The Cardinal Lanes Bowling Alley Fire

On Oct. 16, 1967, the Cardinal Lanes Bowling Alley, located at 515 Anderson Ave. in Cliffside Park, N.J., was involved in a fire. Several crews from neighboring towns responded to the blaze, including five firefighters from the Ridgefield Volunteer Fire Department, which was called on mutual aid. Several firefighters entered the building that day; tragically, the responding crew of volunteers never made it back out.

Today we remember Chief Gustave A. Genschow, 43, a 27-year veteran; Firefighter Dominick Acquafredda, 31, a 4-year veteran; Firefighter Harry Brown, 26, a 5-year veteran; Firefighter James Edwards III, 35; and Firefighter James Lauria, 60.

A silver bell at the Ridgefield Volunteer Fire Department memorializes the five men lost to the Cardinal Lanes Bowling Alley Fire. Photo Tom Rinelli,

The Event
Because first-arriving units witnessed heavy smoke pouring out of all sides of the one-story building, mutual aid was requested from Ridgefield almost immediately. Engine 2, along with additional mutual aid, was dispatched to the scene. Upon arrival, the crew stretched two hoselines to a rear door, and prepared to make entry; however, upon opening the door, there was an explosion that collapsed the roof.

“We were pumping water through the door to spray the roof from inside,” said Henry Dengler, the sole survivor of the Ridgefield crew. “All of a sudden I saw a big gush of smoke backfire and come out of the building.” He shouted for others to get out. The force of the collapse threw him 25 feet, and caused a subsequent cinder-block wall collapse at the rear of the building, which trapped about a dozen firefighters who had been working in the area. Other firefighters on scene attempted to dig out all the buried men.

In addition to the loss of the five firefighters from Ridgefield, several other firefighters were injured, one seriously. Approximately 130 firefighters from eight towns battled the blaze, which was labeled as arson and totaled about $80,000 in losses.

Copyright © Elsevier Inc., a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. SUBSCRIBE to FIRERESCUE

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