By Karen Zautyk
You can say this for natural near-disasters: They’re so educational.
Did you know, for example, that during a storm, your household appliances can get “fried”?
Granted, this is not a common occurrence (hallelujah), but it has been known to happen. And it happened on Sunday morning, Aug. 28, at three homes on Rutherford Place.
It was around 6 a.m. when the Kearny Fire Department responded to a report of a blown transformer at Stuyvesant Ave. and Argyle Place. Public Service Electric & Gas thought the cause might have been a lightning strike, said Deputy Chief Stew Docherty (who shared second-in-command duties with Deputy Chief John Harris during the hurricane weekend).
Over on Rutherford, residents reported a burning odor, which turned out to be, not from flames, but from melted electrical equipment, Docherty said. A power surge, apparently linked to the transformer explosion, had hit three houses: two adjacent to each other and one across the street.
“It blew the electric meter right off the side of one house,” Docherty reported. In all the residences, all the appliances — TVs, computers, dishwashers, etc. — were damaged or “ruined,” he said.
“How those houses didn’t catch fire is beyond me,” said Fire Chief Steve Dyl, who noted that the incident is under investigation.
Before the KFD left the scene, Docherty noted, “we checked all the houses [on Rutherford] with thermal-imaging cameras,” to ensure no flames were flickering.
Dyl said that event was one of about 100 incidents his department dealt with on Aug. 28.
During and after the hurricane—from midnight on Saturday, the 27th, until Monday morning—the KFD increased its on-duty manpower from the usual 17 to 25 firefighters. “Nothing went unanswered,” Dyl said.
Among the calls was a (luckily) minor fire at a warehouse on Campus Drive in South Kearny on Sunday afternoon and, also on Sunday, the collapse of a 15-foot-high retaining wall in the area of Forest St. near Davis Ave., threatening five homes on Davis. The building department is following up on that, Docherty said.
The firefighters also rescued at least eight people — that’s a preliminary number — from submerged motor vehicles during the storm.
Prior to the hurricane, the KFD had obtained five boats for use over the weekend: two from the Hudson County Office of Emergency Management, and three from the Kearny Board of Education (high school crew team boats).
(Editor’s note: When your correspondent first heard about the department borrowing the crew team boats, she thought Dyl meant those shells or sculls or whatever they’re called and couldn’t figure out how firefighters in full turnout gear could maneuver in the skinny things, much less rescue people. She has since learned they were actually the chase boats used by race officials. Duh. Go ahead, laugh. I did.)
The boats were stationed at the firehouses on Midland Ave., Kearny Ave. and in South Kearny, the better to get them quickly to where they might be needed.
No one had to be evacuated by boat from their home, but it was a different matter on the flooded streets, such as at Passaic and Johnston Aves., where four people were saved in one rescue from submerged cars.
“A big advantage of the boats,” Docherty explained, “was that we were abled to check stranded cars to see if anyone was trapped in them.”
The KFD also checked on downed trees to see how stable they were, and on downed wires. And then, when the storm was completely over and the streets were no longer in danger of flooding and the firefighters could breathe easily again, they started pumping out residents’ basements.
That work began at 4 p.m. on Sunday the 28th and continued through Tuesday the 30th.
So, KFD, what have you done for us lately?