After heroic rescues, looking to future Victims of First Street blaze seek homes; bar owner mourns business

Last week, a community came together after a devastating three-alarm fire swept through a four-story building at the corner of First and Bloomfield streets, leaving 14 residents without a home and the popular neighborhood bar McSwiggan’s charred to its core.

Several residents have already initiated fundraising events for the victims, with another event coming up on Saturday. And the bar’s owner plans to rebuild the building and reopen the pub at a later date.

According to Hoboken Deputy Fire Chief Richard Blohm, the fire, which was first reported at approximately 1:02 a.m., started in the building’s basement. The fire was initially blamed on electrical wiring by a source within the city; however, in an interview on Thursday, Blohm said that the cause of the fire was still under investigation.

Blohm added that arson has been ruled out.

It took firefighters over six hours to contain the blaze, requiring the assistance of engine companies from Jersey City and North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue.

Although no injuries to civilians were reported, Hoboken firefighters Rudi Tesoroni and Freddy Stankiewicz were taken to Hoboken University Medical Center, where they were treated and released for smoke inhalation and dizziness.

Hoboken Construction Code official Alfred Arezzo could not be reached for comment later in the week, but according to Blohm, Arezzo said on Monday that he believed the building would not have to come down, but would require some partial brickwork to the higher floors.

For safety reasons, scaffolding has been placed around the building as a precautionary measure to protect pedestrians from falling debris. Additionally, the immediate area around the building has been taped off so people can’t get too close.

Following a dream

As destructive as the fire was, the blaze could have potentially been much more devastating were it not for the quick actions of the building’s owner, Aidan Boyle, who also operated the building’s street-level bar, McSwiggan’s.

According to Aidan’s wife Audrey, after the fire started, Aidan pushed in the door leading to the apartments in an attempt to get the tenants out of the building.

The couple, originally from Ireland, came to the United States to follow a dream. Audrey, who is from Dublin, immigrated to the states in 1988 and initially worked for a doctor’s office in Kearny and also waited tables. Aidan, who is from Mayo, immigrated to the states in 1994. He worked two jobs when he came here, working days for a construction company and nights as a bartender.

The couple met in Hoboken one night while Aidan was tending bar at O’Donohue’s, and they got married in 2000. They have two children.

“It was always a dream of his to open his own bar,” said Audrey Boyle, who said that the couple worked several jobs in order to raise funds for their own place.

They finally saw that dream come to fruition in February 1999, when they first opened McSwiggan’s. When they initially opened, Audrey tended bar and Aidan was the bouncer.

Audrey Boyle said that she was touched by locals and officials who offered their help and support during a very difficult time.

“Everybody has been great,” said Audrey Boyle. “We had a million calls and well wishes from people. We’d like to thank the police, the Fire Department, and the Red Cross.”

She added, “Mayor Roberts offered us his condolences. He was very kind to us on that day.”

Fundraiser next Saturday

Audrey said that their major concern is to help the former residents and the staff who are temporarily out of work.

They are holding a fund raiser at the Dubliner at 96 River St. on Saturday, Jan. 19 from noon to midnight. Interested people can give donations.

“They can drop off anything that you would deem useful,” said Audrey Boyle. “I mean, they lost everything.”

Additionally, locals can continue to drop off clothes or supplies at the bar during the week.

Heroes all around

One search and rescue during the blaze did turn up a victim: a 4-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever named Finn.

Risking his own life, Fire Captain Mario Fini reentered the burning building during the first hour of the blaze and found Finn passed out in a fourth floor apartment.

After Fini carried the dog outside to the street, he was met by Hoboken Volunteer Ambulance Corps members Paul Gaspar and Gary Brown who placed the dog on an oxygen machine and resuscitated him at the scene.

The dog’s owner, Mark Hogan, a tenant of 110 First St., wasn’t in the building at the time of the fire, as he was just finishing work at the local bar, the Dubliner, which is also owned by Boyle. According to Hogan, after taking Finn to a local vet that night, the Lab is doing fine, but isn’t out of the woods yet. Finn has been put on antibiotics to make sure he doesn’t get an infection.

Interestingly enough, the last Hoboken firefighter to rescue a dog in the line of duty was, according to city spokesman Paul Drexel, now Mayor David Roberts. The dog, a Chihuahua, which was rescued in the summer of 1985, belonged to a young Juan Madera, who went on to become a member of the Hoboken Police Department.

Supporting the victims

In response to the fire, residents and businesses throughout the community have come out in support of the victims, holding clothing drives and collecting monetary donations to assist the individuals who lost almost everything they owned in the blaze.

Boyle said that he was grateful and humbled by how people mobilized during the fire. He said Dunkin’ Donuts dropped off coffee for the firemen and victims, Domino’s dropped off stacks of pizzas, and locals were asking him where to drop off items for the residents.

Boyle said all the support and concern reminded him of home.

There were several fund raisers scheduled by members of the bar community, including Marie Wall, owner of a neighboring pub, the Shannon.

In addition to coming to the aid of others, Wall was a victim herself, owning the building adjacent to McSwiggan’s at 108 First St., which also suffered smoke and water damage as a result of the fire. In addition to this, Boyle himself is holding a fund raiser for the fire victims at the other establishment he owns in town, the Dubliner, a traditional Irish bar at 96 River St.

As expected, the city is also collecting donations through its office of Constituent Services, located on the first floor of City Hall at 94 Washington St.

According to Hoboken’s Constituent Services representative Annette Chaparro, the office, as of Thursday, had received various clothing items collected from the Rotary Club, among others.

According to Hoboken Housing Authority Deputy Director Carmelo Garcia, the HHA is in the process of housing one displaced family from 110 First St. in a temporary apartment at one of the three senior buildings in town.

The two individuals will be able to remain at the HHA facility if they choose or until they find permanent housing elsewhere.

According to Red Cross representative Michelle Lemieux, the majority of the remaining victims displaced by the fire, which include tenants of the adjacent 108 First Street building, have either relocated to live with friends or family. There were, however, two people who were given three days of lodging at a local hotel.

At this time, the Red Cross is only accepting monetary donations through their Web site or by calling (800) 507-6058.

Plans to rebuild

According to Aidan Boyle, he plans to rebuild the bar and apartment and will eventually reopen. For now, Boyle said he is focusing on ensuring that the residents of the building have housing and helping his staff find work. “I’m just lucky really,” said Aidan Boyle. “If it was an hour later, we’d all be dead.”

Boyle said that both the Fire Department and the police “were very helpful.”

Locals interested in helping the victims of the fire can drop off donations at City Hall or the Dubliner, located at 96 River St.

Michael Mullins can be reached at mmullins@hudsonreporter.com.

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