Staffing Skyway fire-watch

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


For the first time, members of the Kearny Fire Department will have a shot at off-duty pay, much like their counterparts at the Police Department have enjoyed for many years, although there is a sunset provision for the privilege.

This opportunity has arisen as a consequence of the long-term reconstruction of the Pulaski Skyway, the elevated state highway built in 1932 that links Jersey City and Newark, and, in particular, the welding work being done on the structure.

Starting in mid-April 2014, the state closed the northbound (towards Jersey City) lanes of the 3.5-mile long superstructure while the contractor, CCA Civil Inc./ Diadone Electric, a joint venture, replaces the bridge deck. The job, which will run more than $300 million, is expected to take two years.

Until recently, when there was construction work involving burning going on, the contractor had assigned a member or members of the work crew to monitor that activity to make sure no one would be hurt and that no property would be damaged.

But after some safety issues surfaced, things changed.

Kearny Councilwoman Eileen Eckel, liaison to the Fire Department, reported at the Dec. 2 council meeting that “there have been several incidents where sparks of fire from work on the deck have triggered brush fires below.”

In at least one instance – on Aug. 15 — Kearny firefighters responded in the department’s fireboat to a fire involving wood tenders under the Skyway which could have been set off by sparks from a welder’s torch above.

As a result, one Kearny Fire Department source said, local fire chiefs from Newark, Jersey City and Kearny told the contractor and the state Department of Transportation that maintaining a fire watch “was something they’d rather handle themselves.”

After DOT, which contracts out the work on the Skyway, concurred that the municipal Fire Departments should handle that responsibility, the Kearny Town Council passed a resolution Dec. 2 “permitting off-duty members of the Fire Department to accept (on a volunteer basis) fire-watch employment with the contractor making improvements to the Pulaski Skyway.”

The resolution noted that the state permit issued to the contractor for the improvements has been amended to include these conditions:

“While all hot work is being conducted, a fire watch shall be posted.

“Fire watch must be conducted for a minimum of one hour after hot work has been completed. “

Fire watch personnel must be New Jersey State Firefighter 1 (basic knowledge of firefighting techniques) or 2 (working under supervision as a member of a team) Certified and must be on site during all welding and cutting operations. Dedicated off duty firefighters shall be used for fire watch. Arrangements shall be made through local fire department having jurisdiction. “In the event that hot work is being conducted in the vicinity or above brush or combustible material, an additional fire watch must be posted on in the direct vicinity of ignitable material.”

The Skyway contractor will pay Kearny firefighters opting for the off-duty work at the rate of $58 per hour for a minimum of four hours of work. An additional fee of $10 an hour is tacked on “to cover administrative costs and out-of-pocket expenses for the town,” the resolution says.

“If the contractor fails to contact the Fire Department at least two hours before the scheduled work time to cancel the job, or [if] the Fire Department member works less than four hours and the job is completed, the Fire Department member shall be entitled to be paid for a minimum of four hours at the rate established [$58 an hour],” the resolution notes.

The contractor must provide an estimate of the number of hours required for the fire-watch job to the fire chief for approval, set up a trust account dedicated to the payment of off-duty firefighters and deposit sufficient funds to cover all costs on a monthly basis. All payments must be submitted to the town for deposit into the account.

Town Administrator Michael Martello reiterated that the full burden for payment rests with the contractor. “We don’t lay out any money at all,” he said.

No fire rigs from Kearny can be used on a fire-watch job and, if there’s a fire or emergency during a firewatch, the fire chief can pull any of the off-duty firefighters to respond to that fire or emergency.

The opportunity for the off-duty work “shall expire upon completion of the Pulaski Skyway project.”

Learn more about the writer ...