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Wayne cop wants his loss to be a life-saving lesson

WAYNE, NJ — Township Police Officer Joseph Rude and his family lost everything Sunday when staining rags he tossed into the garbage spontaneously ignited into a devastating fire.

But instead of being overwhelmed by the loss of their Forest Terrace home, Rude and his wife Paulette want a tragic mistake to serve as a life-saving lesson to others. And in turn, that kind of selflessness has prompted a massive community response to help the couple and their four children, who range in age from 11 months to 7 years.

“If I can help one other person say: ‘I should read the label a little better, or be more careful,’’’ Joseph Rude said. “If I had taken the extra two minutes, my children would be home with a babysitter and not with my parents [where we’re staying].’’

Rude had used a Cabot brand stain on his porch, it has a warning label that advises users to soak the rags in water before disposing of them, police Capt. Paul Ireland said. Township fire officials say that stain rags can spontaneously catch fire, and they advise residents to soak them before discarding.

Tom Daniels, a marketing director for Valspar, the company that owns Cabot, said warning labels on the products advise users to discard rags in sealed metal containers filled with water.

Other times Rude stained his porch, he followed those directions to the letter. But the father of four was rushing through a weekend of long overdue housework. He said he stained the porch on Saturday and tossed the rags on top of an open garbage can, about a foot from the house. He meant to go back and dispose of them later, but didn’t.

“I was trying to squeeze 100 hours of projects into a day’s worth of work,’’ Rude said.

On Sunday night he went to the hospital because he had pain in his arm. He said a nurse in the emergency room rushed him through — and thereby might be responsible for having saving his family’s life: After a speedy checkup found that he was fine, he returned home around 11 p.m., — just in time to spot a glow. At first he thought his children had left on a basement light; as he drove nearer, he realized the garbage can with the rags, up against the house, had caught fire and the flames were spreading to the lattice under the porch.

He ran out of his van so quickly, he left the keys in the ignition. He darted up to the house and rang the doorbell to wake his wife and children. Ireland said neighbors heard him screaming to his family to get out of the house.

They made is safely to a neighbors before the Rudes’ entire house was engulfed in flames. A propane tank stored under the porch exploded, and the tires of his wife’s car parked in the driveway burst in the inferno, Rude said.

Firefighters arrived quickly, but the house was destroyed in the blaze, Ireland said — “The family lost everything, except what they were wearing. Everything was in the house.’’

The family now is staying with nearby relatives. Paulette Rude is grateful the loss was not much worse. She used the word “lucky’’ several times when she talked about the fire. She said what they lost was “stuff’’ and believes her husband was a hero because he got the family out of the house instead of trying to put out the fire when he returned home.

“He is the person who was using the rags, so he is feeling guilty and taking a lot of the blame,’’ Paulette Rude said. “But we have angels above. His timing and smart moves and logical thinking saved six people.’’

And the couple wants to make their loss a lesson for others. “We have a new purpose: to send a message. Everyone is going to make sure to dispose of the containers and not get sidetracked,’’ she said. “His mistakes could save other people’s lives, and he will tell everyone.’’

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