OLD TAPPAN, N.J. — To Fred Puglisi, anything left in his water-logged Old Tappan home is a treasure.
The former Hackensack police officer has responded to small oven fires as well as rapidly-spreading high-rise blazes -- and knows that running back inside a burning building simply isn't an option.
As the final responders left his Haring Drive home the morning of Jan. 28 -- eight hours after it went up in flames -- Puglisi realized that all he and his family had left were memories.
“Everything we’d accumulated is gone,” said the private investigator, who watched with his wife, two sons and dog as the interior of their home burned, collapsed and crumbled before their eyes. “It’s a surreal feeling, you know. It’s like you’re in a nightmare.”
The blaze began in the basement around 1 a.m. while Puglisi and his wife were sleeping. Son, Scott, 28, noticed smoke coming from the vents in his room and alerted everyone.
Puglisi tried extinguishing the blaze with a garden hose before flames forced him out and firefighters took over.
“From that point on it’s been a whirlwind of constantly talking to insurance adjusters, friends and family,” said Puglisi, who’s been staying in a hotel in Hasbrouck Heights. “If you go on a scale from 1 to 10 — 10 being the worst —the first day is a 10. The second and third days are a 10 and the fourth day is a 9.
“It’s been getting easier due to the support that we have,” he said.
Family members hope they'll be able to move back in someday.
“You have to tell yourself that everything you lost are just material objects,” said Puglisi, whose father-in-law was a longtime Hackensack firefighter.
“You think you have it bad, but you have to be thankful that everyone is okay,” he said. “What could be more important that that?”