Residents escape house fire thanks to Cranford boy’s heroism

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CRANFORD, NJ — Thanks to the quick thinking of 12-year-old Alex Kessler on Wednesday, March 31, his neighbors are alive today.

“The neighbors live right around the corner from us, like five houses away. The three kids — Alex, 12-year-old Sydney and 8-year-old Peri — were walking their puppy, Emmie,” said Nicole Kessler, the mother of Alex and his two siblings, as well as a Cranford school board member, on Thursday, April 8. The Kessler family lives on Stoughton Avenue. “Alex noticed smoke, and Sydney ran to the side of the house and saw that it was on fire. Alex handed Sydney the leash and the first thing he did was ring the doorbell of the house to alert the family. He then called 9-1-1. Peri ran home to get me. When I arrived, they were yelling for the last family member to get out of the house. Help arrived minutes later, and the family was able to get out.”

According to Kessler, the damage to the house was pretty bad, as the fire burned through the roof of the house. But, thanks to Alex’s quick thinking, the neighbors made it out in time and no one was hurt.

“I believe just two people and the dog were home, and I don’t believe anyone was hurt,” Kessler said. “His siblings were there, but he did that part on his own, which I do think was the most remarkable part. I don’t know that we would have thought to ring the doorbell of a house on fire.”

“We are so proud of all of our kids for stopping what they were doing to investigate the situation,” Kessler said. “You raise your kids and hope they will do the right thing, and so we were grateful in this case that they did. Thinking of the family’s safety first and ringing the doorbell made us particularly proud.”

The Front Line Appreciation Group for Cranford honored Kessler for his bravery. FLAG for Cranford was founded in March 2020 to raise funds in Cranford.

“The goal was to raise funds that would be spent in our Cranford restaurants as a way to support our businesses while feeding front-line workers during an unprecedented time,” FLAG for Cranford co-founder Rebecca Tantillo said on Thursday, April 8. “After raising over $100,000, we decided to become a 501(c)(3) organization that will continue to serve Cranford for many years to come.”

Raising funds for those in need, FLAG for Cranford is there to help the family whose house was damaged by the fire.

“FLAG for Cranford teamed up with a neighbor and family friend to help raise funds for the Ghiretti family,” Tantillo said. “They are currently looking for temporary housing, and FLAG would love to alleviate some of their stress by providing gift cards to local restaurants and markets for meals. We have currently raised nearly $1,100, via Venmo @Rebecca-Tantillo, to purchase gift cards. We are also collecting gift cards at two locations, Augusta Mae Boutique at 35 Alden St. and the Ditzel residence at 93 Stoughton Ave. in Cranford.”

FLAG for Cranford thanked Kessler for his heroic deed, for which Cranford Fire Department also honored him.

“FLAG felt it was important to recognize Alex publicly for his quick thinking and brave act,” Tantillo said. “We offered Alex a trip to Vanilla Bean Creamery for everybody’s favorite treat! The Cranford Fire Department has also offered to drop off a surprise for Alex and his family. We are so incredibly proud of Alex. He thought on his feet and immediately of others. His brave act could have very well saved their lives. He’s Cranford’s little hero.”

Cranford Township fire official and Emergency Management Coordinator Matthew Lubin also acknowledged Alex’s bravery.

“The department was thrilled to hear Alex’s story,” Lubin said on Thursday, April 8. “The loss of someone’s home to fire is always a terrible event, but the one outcome which helps fire victims get through something so traumatic is the fact that everyone was able to escape unharmed. Alex’s quick thinking and action in alerting the occupants to the fire certainly helped ensure they could escape before the smoke and fire conditions were too intense. We teach firefighter recruits about the outsize importance of the early stages of an incident in determining the overall outcome, and I think this is a great example of that.

“In a few years, when Alex is older, he can use me as a reference for any firefighter application,” he added.