Holiday tragedy

By ROBERT LINNEHAN | The Cherry Hill Sun

A Cherry Hill woman succumbed to smoke inhalation and several burn injuries early Christmas morning after firefighters pulled her from a burning four-room apartment.

Sandra Hardwick, 48, died early Dec. 25 after being transported by emergency medical technicians to Kennedy Memorial Hospital. Cherry Hill Fire Chief Robert Giorgio said she likely died from smoke inhalation and some severe thermal burns she endured while in the structure.

Giorgio said a call came into the district at about 12:20 a.m. that a fire was ripping through a duplex at 2806 Church Road. The first firefighters arriving on the scene reported that flames were already shooting out of all four windows of the duplex, Giorgio said.

Onlookers informed the firefighters that a woman had gone back into the blaze several minutes earlier.

“People on site were saying there was a woman in the duplex that went back inside and was trapped. The ladder company members started to search the property and they came across Miss Hardwick in the kitchen near a rear door,” he said.

The firefighters quickly brought Hardwick over to waiting EMTs, who transported her to Kennedy Memorial. She died while receiving treatment at the hospital, Giorgio said. It took the remaining firefighters about 14 minutes to contain and extinguish the blaze in the duplex.

Giorgio said the fire likely started in her rear bedroom. A faulty lamp and an electrical cord are being investigated as the possible causes for the fire, he said. Members of the Hardwick family said she smoked as well, so a cigarette could have been the reason.

“We do know it was accidental,” Giorgio said.

Reports generated from onlookers and family members said Hardwick was able to initially escape the duplex, but likely went back inside because she thought she had a chance to contain or put out the fire that was destroying her home. She was located in the kitchen near her pet dog’s crate, Giorgio said, so she might have attempted to locate and help save the animal as well.

“It’s a tragic event, regardless of this time of year. It’s terrible for a family to lose a mother and a grandmother. She probably thought she could get the fire extinguished and maybe get the pet out,” he said. “She went back in to get the fire out, but then we figured she was trying to get the dog. You can’t fault her really, she was trying to do what she thought was right.

“We’re human beings. We’re going to try and attempt to put out a fire if we can and if you think your dog is still in the home you’ll try and help them.”

That being said, Giorgio said he would have rather come to the scene and seen a shivering, cold family who had only lost their dog than what happened. He stressed the importance of not returning to a burning building, even if it’s a small blaze, as fires can escalate very quickly.

The teams who entered the duplex and who found Hardwick were fabulous, he said.

When it was determined there was still a survivor in the apartment there was no hesitation from firefighters to go in.

“The battalion chief was on the scene quickly and did a great job. It was a hard night for all of us, especially the family,” he said. “It’s not how we wanted to see the year end.

“We had a fire fatality on Laurel Hill earlier in the year and we didn’t want to have another one.”