A column of smoke rose above the lower end of Union City, New Jersey, and was spotted by police on patrol and visible from several firehouses as units pulled out of their quarters on July 26. A total of seven firefighters were sent to area hospitals for nonlife-threatening injuries, and the local Office of Emergency Management reported 13 families displaced.
Shortly before 5 p.m., Police Officer (P.O.) Frank Depinto was on patrol with rookie P.O. Jose Ascencio. They spotted a heavy smoke in the area of Central Avenue & 10th Street. Depinto radioed in to have the Fire Department start rolling to 10th St. between Central Avenue & West Street for a fire as they approached the scene. They pulled up to find “a wall of flames,” according to Depinto, rising up the side of a three-story wood-frame dwelling at 618-10th St. Fortunately, no one was home in this building. The entrance to this structure was on the side where the fire was burning. If residents were home, they would have had to escape via windows on the second and third floors above a garage. They began to alert tenants in 626-10th St. (Exposure B, a three-story occupied multiple dwelling), some of whom were unaware that there was a fire.
North Hudson fire companies were dispatched for a report of a fire on the 600 block of 10th Street. Engine Co. 1 is located at 10th St. & Paterson Plank Rd., some three blocks away. As the company began to turn out, they observed fire and smoke and called in a working fire and transmitted the second alarm before arrival. As other fire companies pulled out of their quarters on 16th Street and 29th Street, they observed the “loom up.” Acting First Battalion Chief Kevin Cowan arrived and struck the third alarm.
Firefighters quickly knocked down the exterior visible fire between the two buildings, but fire had extended into all floors of 626 as well as in the rear of two three-story wood-frame dwellings that front on Central Avenue (Exposures B-1 and B-2). Firefighters advanced hand lines into all floors to attack the heavy volume of fire. A fourth alarm was sounded by Deputy Chief Mike Cranwell.
Truck companies managed to get their aerial ladders up on the Central Avenue side, despite numerous overhead power lines. Truck company members began to open up. One trench cut showed fire beneath them. Another was cut to stop extension towards the Central Avenue side. Fire involved 1002 and 1004 Central Avenue.
A fifth alarm was transmitted for additional personnel as the humidity was effecting members and EMS units began to examine and treat firefighters on Central Ave. The Gong Club canteen arrived on the 4th alarm and began placing coolers filled with bottled water at strategic locations. The increased alarms brought numerous units from Jersey City to the scene and Hoboken Engine 3.
As firefighters were making progress, Jersey City members radioed a Mayday for Exposure B-1 on Central Avenue. A banister gave way and two firefighters fell, one landing on his back and SCBA. They were quickly removed and attended to by EMT’s before being taken to the Jersey City Medical Center.
No residents were reported injured. Residents were taken to a nearby school for shelter and the Red Cross was called in for assistance.
The fire was under control around 6:30 p.m. Off-duty North Hudson officers and firefighters were recalled to duty to activate reserve units and replaced members that were sent to the hospital. The preliminary investigation leans towards an outside fire that started between the buildings on the 10th Street side. The investigation will continue on Monday morning with city police and the New Jersey Division of Fire Safety.
MORE RON JEFFERS