By Ron Leir
On its maiden fire response, Kearny Fire Department’s fireboat – Marine 3 – performed up to par as its seven-man crew was first on the scene to help battle a smoky blaze under the Pulaski Skyway last Friday, Dep. Fire Chief Joseph Viscuso said.
But it took 51 minutes from the time the KFD got the alarm of fire to get its boat to the scene, department logs show, largely because the boat was dispatched from the Midland Ave.
It took about an hour for the Kearny boat, working in tandem with a Newark Fire Department vessel and the N.J. State Police Zodiak boat, to extinguish the flames attacking a wood fender that protects the base of the Skyway’s huge support columns from impacts of passing boats and other objects.
Viscuso, who was serving as the KFD’s acting chief on Friday, said it appears that the fire – reported at 1:05 p.m. – was ignited by sparks from welding activity on the bridge deck above.
Interestingly, at almost the same time on Aug. 8, a brush fire was reported under the Skyway on the riverbank, just 200 feet from the site of Friday’s incident, which was also believed to have been triggered by sparks from a welder’s tool, but, at the time, Marine 3 was undergoing some adjustments so the Secaucus Volunteer Fire Department sent its boat, Viscuso said.
At Friday’s fire, aside from the fire boats pumping out sprays of water onto the burning timbers, Viscuso said that several of the Kearny crew also climbed onto another nearby section of fender and used firefighting tools to “cut a lot of holes into the creosote planking” to vent the fire and then used hand lines to squirt water behind the holes. The wood fencing rises about six feet above the water line, Viscuso said.
There was only “moderate damage” to the fender structure, Viscuso said, while, the Skyway superstructure appeared to be unharmed.
The 25 1/2-foot-long Kearny vessel, acquired in May 2013 with a $345,000 FEMA grant (that paid for the boat and a trailer for it), is designed to shoot 1,250 gallons of water per minute and its crew kept it pumping until the fire was declared under control.
Aboard the boat were Capt. Dave Kealy, Capt. James Mullins, Capt. Tom McDermott (the driver) and Firefighters Nelson DaSilva, Michael Janeczko and Tom Grieb, along with Probationary Firefighter James Burgos, all of whom had received trainning on it.
“It was the first time we used the boat to fight a fire and they rose to the challenge,” Viscuso said.
After being alerted to the fire through a 911 call routed to Kearny, at 1:05 p.m., the KFD deployed members of the seven-man team and hauled Marine 3 on its trailer, from the Midland firehouse, to the Passaic River Yacht Club on Scout Ave. from where it was launched into the Hackensack River, enroute upstream to the fire.
Viscuso said the boat was in the water by 1:51 p.m. and got to the scene five minutes later. It was the first of the three vessels to arrive, he added.
Jersey City Fire Department also dispatched a boat but it was directed to return, he added. Admitting that he was a little skeptical, initially, about whether Kearny really needed a fireboat, Viscuso said last week he’s absolutely convinced that the vessel is essential.
“The only way we could’ve fought this fire [on Friday] was from the water,” he said. “You couldn’t do it from the land.”
Marine 3 has been previously deployed but its prior mission was not fire-related, Viscuso said.
“On Aug. 12, at 12:43 p.m., we got a call from the bridge tender at the Amtrak portal bridge that he’d spotted a canoe drifting upside down in the river so we deployed our boat on a search and we located it along the shore,” he recalled. No one was clinging to it or near it and firefighters landed to search the area but saw nobody, he said. The KFD learned later that the canoe had been reported missing by a canoe rental place in Secaucus a month prior.