4 firefighters injured at recycling-plant fire in Lyndhurst

LYNDHURST —

A Thanksgiving Day fire destroyed the interior of a huge paper recycling plant in Lyndhurst.

Both the origin and cause of the three-alarm blaze, which brought out firefighters from the township and eight other area communities, was undetermined as of last week.

No civilians were hurt but four firefighters — three from Lyndhurst and one from Secaucus — were taken off-line. Haggerty said the Lyndhurst volunteers had minor injuries and one was taken to Hackensack University Medical Center for evaluation and released.

The Secaucus firefighter was treated at the scene after being disoriented on the building’s roof, he said.

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Haggerty said the township Fire Department was alerted to the fire at the New York & New Jersey Recycling Corp., 800 Page Ave., just off Schuyler Ave., at 11:20 a.m. by a call from an employee at a nearby business.

Upon arrival, the first units to respond were met with “heavy fire engulfing the entire building, a 75-by-200-feet warehouse,” Haggerty said.

A few employees comprising a “modified skeleton crew” left in charge of the building on the holiday were evacuated by firefighters who also had to deal with flames having spread east to Omega Plastics, separated by only seven feet from the recycling facility, the chief said.

At the plastics firm, fire had penetrated to the building’s interior but, with the help of fire sprinklers activated inside, the blaze was “quickly contained,” Haggerty said, and employees were led out safely, he added.

Back at the recycling plant, the local volunteers were soon joined by mutual aid companies: Carlstadt furnished an engine, rescue vehicle and FAST team; Rutherford and East Rutherford each brought an engine; North Arlington had a ladder truck and FAST team; and Secaucus assisted with water supply from a secondary source. Nutley, Wood-Ridge and Wallington stood by at township fire stations.

Altogether, Haggerty estimated, there were about 60 firefighters at the scene.

Ambulances from six area communities, along with Bergen County EMS Task Force and Moonachie First Aid & Rescue Squad also responded.

At the recycling plant, the chief said that while the bulk of the blaze got knocked down fairly quickly — even with having to drag hose some 1,300 feet from the secondary water source — firefighters’ efforts were hampered by the profusion of 25-foot-high mounds of unsorted paper products scattered throughout the plant, each accounting for its own fire source.

That condition, he said, coupled with the fact that “the sprinkler system in the building was not working,” compounded the degree of difficulty in fully dousing the fire. Special equipment had to be brought in to “pull the materials out” to separate the combustibles, making the operation “very tedious” and time-consuming.

And, as the fire raged, the heat became so intense it burned through a section of the roof which collapsed, Haggerty said. Sensing that it was going to give way, the chief ordered firefighters out of harm’s way before that happened, he said.

“It became a defensive operation,” he said. “I can’t commend the personnel on the scene enough.”

Fire units remained at the property until about 11:30 p.m. Thanksgiving night, the chief said.

In the aftermath of the blaze, an investigation was conducted jointly by Lyndhurst Fire Official Robert Ferrara, Lyndhurst Police Det./Arson Investigator Vincent Auteri and the Bergen County Sheriff’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation Unit, which photographed the scene.

But as of today, no conclusions had been reached about where or why the fire started, according to Haggerty.

Meanwhile, the chief said the Lyndhurst Building Department has declared what remains of the recycling building unsafe and has issued a demolition order. On Friday, workers aboard mechanized vehicles were removing the fire debris to the exterior of the building.

“I believe a lot of their [paper] product comes from New York,” Haggerty said.

Township Public Works Commissioner Matthew Ruzzo said the company has been operating on the site for at least “a couple of years,” after taking over the operation from the predecessor firm, JEM Sanitation.

Ruzzo said the township had explored the possibility of sending recycled paper products to the current operator — “they’d given us a price per ton” — but opted not to follow through.

“We’ve just never dealt with them,” he said.

Although all the firefighters and EMTs who were called out to the fire had to forego Thanksgiving Day dinners with family members, they didn’t go home hungry.

Haggerty said his wife, Corrine, who had prepared a holiday spread for a family gathering, “brought dinner enough for a small army” to be shared by fellow volunteers — and the Volunteer Fire Department’s Ladies Auxiliary teamed with the Moonachie Rescue Squad to provide doughnuts and pastries as desserts.

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.