UPDATE: Drug Arrest in 'Rooming House' Fire

'Potential disaster averted' in single-family home converted into 10 bedroom units.

UPDATE: on Feb. 3 arrested 24-year-old Martin Pasternak and charged him with possession of under 50 grams of marijuana after firefighters discovered the drug while fighting a fire at 64 Ridgedale Ave. Pasternak was charged and released pending his court appearance in Madison Municipal Court.

The had responded to a report of a basement fire Feb. 3 at about 12:50 a.m. Firefighters arrived to find a fire on the front porch of the residence and the house filled with smoke, Chief Lou DeRosa said.

The fire was quickly brought under control after firefighters cut open the porch floor and extinguished the flames, DeRosa said. The house was then ventilated of the smoke. The cause of fire was found to be a carelessly discarded cigarette butt, DeRosa said. He said occupants of the house had smelled smoke and called 911.
"The fire was minutes away from being a national news story with a tragic ending," DeRosa said. "The fire had just started to 'free burn' as firefighters arrived on the scene. The quick response and fast action by firefighters helped avert a potential disaster."

Firefighters later realized that the exterior doors to the house on the front porch were the only exit for occupants from the upper floors of the structure, DeRosa said. What was discovered in the normal course of firefighting operations was that the interior of the single-family home had been converted into a "rooming" house configuration, with 11 beds in 10 “bedrooms” on four different levels including the basement, DeRosa said.

"There were 12 occupants, male and female, in the home at the time of the fire, and all made it out of the home without injuries," DeRosa said.

The identities of those involved were not released. DeRosa said there were also no working smoke or carbon monoxide alarms anywhere in the house. New Jersey state law requires properly mounted and working smoke and CO alarms in all single- and two-family homes.
"Given the fact the front doors were the primary exit, had this fire grown and blocked off this path of escape, firefighters would have been overwhelmed with rescues and possibly body recoveries," DeRosa said.

A door that led to the basement from the first floor was dead-bolted shut and the stairs were cluttered with debris, making them virtually impassable, DeRosa said.

Firefighters also discovered in one of the rooms what appeared to be a controlled substance, DeRosa said, leading to Pasternak's arrest.

The property owner, Joseph Pirro of 53 Lathrop Ave., met with Madison fire and housing officials on Feb. 3, and was fined and ordered to bring the house back to its original, legal occupancy or additional penalties and fines would be levied. He is cooperating with authorities, DeRosa said.

County tax records show Pirro's Kings Ridge Partnership, also at 53 Lathrop Ave., bought the house in 1994.

Madison Cyclist February 07, 2012 at 12:36 AM
Ok, fess up. Who's the absentee slumlord that lives at 53 Lathrop?
Madison Station February 07, 2012 at 01:04 AM
A simple public record web search will yield a tax record of the 53 Lathrop property and who owns it. I'll give you a hint... Morris GIS. Unfortunately the lack of affordable housing in Morris County creates these unsafe conditions. All landlords should be required to register with the state and have annual state inspections of both the exterior and interior of the properties. It should be the law, with huge penalties for knowingly creating unsafe living conditions.
lisa sapio February 07, 2012 at 12:29 PM
We are all thankful that nobody was hurt in this incident. I hope this is a HUGE wake up call for those that live in Madison. This is what is going on in our town. The safety of our community should come first and those that own property in our town should be help accountable. The money this slumlord has been making off of this property for all of those years is horrifying and the people that live in those "rooms" maybe can't afford anything else but to bad, there has got to be somewhere else for them to go. I know as I drop my kids off at the high school that there have been children living in that home over the last several years, no mention about children in that article. Give him a huge fine, make him fix this eye sore of a house up the correct way and not just slap together some wood to cover all of the many holes in the house and be responsible. Would love to know who owns this house and maybe someone else here has some insight.... it is a disgrace to our town to have all of these absentee homeowners who take advantage of the profit without giving back to the community. This person should be proud of the original beauty of this old home.
Jerome (Bud) Holzman February 07, 2012 at 04:10 PM
The identified Owner should be heavily fined, and not a fine that constitutes a slap on the wrist. There are local and state ordinances that require safety devices even in one family homes. He operated a multi-occupant dwelling despite Boro Law!
Steve B February 07, 2012 at 05:56 PM
how about an arrest and some jail time, along with forfiture of the property. Let the town sell it to someone who will do the right thing.
tina February 07, 2012 at 06:11 PM
I agree with Steve B! I live around the corner from this house, and it is sad to see such a beautiful home be neglected. It could be a real beauty with the right owner.
DidUReallyJustSayThat February 07, 2012 at 07:18 PM
Check out the photo. Nothing screams "Rooming House" more then multiple satellite dishes aimed skyward.
lisa sapio February 07, 2012 at 08:40 PM
This is the stuff you read about somewhere else, not in Madison. If there wasn't a fire how would anyone with any authority by able to enter this home? If a complaint is made about a home with visible neglect can't anything be done or can't the board of health enter the home? I would love to hear from some of the elected officials regarding their stand on what should be done in these sort of cases. Buy in Madison for $94. put in 12 tenants make a ton of money, let the house fall apart and hope for the best. Guarantee the owner of this property owns other properties in town with the same disrepair, and for that matter "rooming houses" Hopefully someone is looking into this.
Madison Cyclist February 07, 2012 at 09:10 PM
Check out the property on Google maps. There's a small parking lot behind the house with at least 6 marked spots. Shouldn't someone from the Boro have noticed that's inconsistent with a single family setup?


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