By Kevin Canessa
I woke up at 5:15 a.m. on Jan. 5. As usual, I made a cup of joe and turned on Channel 5 to watch “Good Day Wakeup.”
As the morning proceeded, I saw a report of a fire in Newark — it was an entire city block. It looked really bad. So I turned on my scanner (through my iPhone) and put on the Newark’s FD feed. While listening, I discovered some Kearny units were there.
I can’t remember exactly what time it was, but I can recall exactly what the Newark FD dispatcher said that caught my attention and which caused me to switch to the Kearny FD feed. “We’re releasing Kearny — they have a fire in their city (town.)”
The first voice I heard after switching was Deputy Chief Frank Viscuso’s. He and units from Harrison were heading to a reported working fire at 238 Maple St., Kearny.
The first units who arrived, from what I remember, discovered fire in the building’s basement.
There was an immense calm.
Those who were on-scene early had to know the conditions surrounding the fire … the ridiculous cold, the absurd wind, a wind chill that was negative in number, would make fighting this fire, let’s just say, a little more challenging than usual.
As time went on, more and more units were dispatched to the scene, from Kearny, Harrison, North Arlington, Jersey City, Belleville, North Hudson Regional (West New York, North Bergen, Union City, Guttenberg), Hoboken, Bayonne, Secaucus. Almost the entire county sent units to this fire when all was said and done — though some kept vigil at KFD Headquarters in case another fire had broken out. Thankfully, no others did that day, though a day later, Lyndhurst was faced with a major blaze of its own.
As the morning went on, I took to Facebook to do a play-by-play of what I was hearing on scanner traffic from the warmth of my apartment. Through the 8 o’clock hour, the fire was still “going good” as they say. Units were evacuated from the roof for fear it would collapse, according to the traffic.
As it came to the 9 o’clock hour, the fire still burned.
Chief Steven Dyl had long assumed command at this point. There were numerous deputy chiefs on scene, including Viscuso, Robert Osborn and Bruce Kauffmann. There may have been others, too. Guys from the KFD who were off were bring recalled as reinforcements. When firefighters use the term “All Hands Going to Work,” they weren’t kidding in this instance.
That morning, at around 9:30, Lisa Feorenzo, the co-owner of this newspaper, arrived to pick me up from home. We headed right to Maple St., and found, somehow, a parking space about 1 ½ blocks away.
When we got to the scene at about 9:40 a.m. — give or take a few minutes — it was unfathomable what we found. Maple St. may as well have been the ice surface at the Prudential Center. Water dripping from hydrants was freezing in what seemed like nanoseconds.
Scores of firefighters were covered in ice, some from their helmets, others on their turnout-gear jackets, some both. Lisa captured photos of KFD Capt. John McCafferey who seemed to be covered in ice from head to toe.
The scene was surreal.
Officially, by 9:47 a.m., the fire was declared under control. But for many more hours, many members were still at the scene, working, in the inhumane conditions left by Mother Nature.
Lisa and I left the scene after what we thought was 45 minutes to an hour. But when we calculated the time we were actually there, it had only been a mere 19 minutes. When those 19 were up, and we got back to her car, both of our hands were in so much pain, we could only sit there and thaw out.
If we were experiencing this pain, what were the firefighters and other first responders going through? Most had been there, at the point, for at least two hours. We were there for a fraction of that time.
As the day wore on — and the days that followed Friday, Jan. 5, rolled on — it was pretty clear just how remarkable the performance of the firefighters and, for that matter, all the first responders, including the Kearny Police Department, various EMS, et. al., truly was. And it also became clear just how special the people of Kearny, and its neighbors in West Hudson, truly are.
When Monday morning came, our General Manager Bob Pezzolla was greeted by countless clothing donations people left before we even got a chance to open the office. So much clothing was coming to our office that we actually had to stop accepting it until we got word of where it would wind up, ultimately (the Spanish Pavilion.)
For fear of forgetting specifics, I write this column today to thank each and every human being who, at one point or another, had a connection to this awful fire. Whether it was first responders, those who donated clothes, cash or other items, those who worked tirelessly to find new homes for the victims (there were up to 50 victims who lost their homes), we at The Observer, on behalf of, well, everyone in the area, say thank you.
Words are often not sufficient to thank the good people of West Hudson who banded together to help neighbors in need.
But as Dyl said last week, “This is what Kearny does.”
When one hurts, we all hurt.
And the outcome is like nothing we’ve seen in recent memory.
To all who had a part in helping our neighbors in need at 238-240 Maple St., thank you! Your love, your kindness, your compassion, your empathy, has not gone unnoticed. Not for a second. We will never forget how we all banded together like this.
And again, we say thank you.