Article and photos by Ron Jeffers
Approximately 60 families were made homeless and one firefighter suffered broken ribs as the result of a fire that raced through the cockloft of a large five-story ordinary construction apartment complex in North Bergen, New Jersey, on September 28.
North Hudson (NJ) Regional fire companies were dispatched to 9201 Kennedy Blvd. at approximately 5:30 p.m. The building sits on the border line of Hudson and Bergen Counties. No smoke alarms were sounding, but smoke was visible in the ceiling area above the top floor. Firefighters had difficulty locating the seat of the fire and a second alarm was transmitted by 3rd Battalion Chief Mike Falco.
As time passed, the smoke got thicker, but the seat of the fire could not be located. Deputy Chief Anthony Avillo struck a third alarm, later followed by a fourth for additional manpower. The fourth alarm and special calls brought in companies from Hoboken, Jersey City, and Secaucus.
As firefighters worked on the roof, and began a trench cut, they reported to command that sections of the roof were already very soft. The roof also possessed several cell phone towers. As the rapidly, and inaccessible, flames spread throughout the cockloft, firefighters were ordered to evacuate and begin a defensive operation. This included four ladder pipes and a tower ladder.
Flames broke out of top-floor windows and through the roof, visible across the Hudson in Manhattan. As dusk arrived, low banking smoke covered the neighborhood and power was also shut down to several blocks by the utility company. Portable light towers were set up by North Bergen’s O.E.M.
The fire, located at the county line, caused Cliffside Park Deputy Chief and East Bergen County Mutual Aid Coordinator Ted Tarabokija to special call addition companies from his county to the Bergen Blvd. side of the fire, where flames were rapidly approaching. There was also an ember problem. Initial Bergen County companies arrived from Cliffside Park, Fairview, Ridgefield, Edgewater, and Fort Lee and went to work.
Flames lit up the night sky as master streams pounded the flames. The fire was under control at approximately 9:20 p.m. Municipal officials transported residents to North Bergen High School, several blocks away, where they were assisted by Red Cross and O.E.M. personnel.
Preliminary reports believe the cause of the multiple-alarm was electrical in nature. The incident is being investigated by local and state officials.