Crews Battle Four-Alarm North Bergen (NJ) Fire During Storm

Firefighters and apparatus at major North Bergen fire

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Article and photos by Ron Jeffers

As the New York City-Northern New Jersey metropolitan area was buckling down for Nor’easter #4 to hit the area, North Hudson Regional (NJ) Fire & Rescue companies battled the second major fire during a storm in North Bergen, one of the five municipalities covered by this department.

Shortly before 9 a.m. on March 21, 2018, a full assignment was dispatched for numerous calls of a fire in the area of 7117 River Road.  Snow and fog were already blanketing the area. Captain Leo Calvo, of Squad Co. 7 reported heavy smoke in the area–a working fire–but was unable to give a size-up due to the low-banking smoke and weather conditions. The apparatus carefully maneuvered around traffic and found the fire at the North Bergen Municipal Utility Authority’s Woodcliff Waste-Water Treatment Facility.

Visibility was zero as second-due Squad 10 radioed to Squad 7 to inquire if they needed a feed line. “We cannot see you,” was part of the radio transmission.

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Heavy fire within the structure, which was undergoing renovation, was consuming combustibles inside. A sign in front of the building read “Plant Upgrades.”  A township official said workers were using several torches to cut up metal tanks which possessed plastic linings; these were burning and got out of control.

An defensive operation began and Deputy Chief Dave Donnarumma transmitted second, third, and fourth alarms in rapid succession. Ladder 4’s crew gently maneuvered their tiller apparatus into a driveway on the “D” side of the building between the fire and a car wash, through low-banking smoke, and set up a ladder pipe operation. Tower Ladder 3 backed in behind 4 Truck for for their bucket to go into operation. Fire eventually broke through the roof.

A stench was in the air, and North Bergen police were ordering all police, EMS and other support units to come in from the north, away from the smoke. In addition, hazmat crews from Jersey City and Bayonne reported to the scene. There are numerous high rise buildings in the area, and a hospital. The hazmat members conducted air quality tests, which proved to be negative of any harmful materials.

Numerous handlines and master streams pounded the building until conditions improved. The fire was declared “Probably will hold” at 11:21 a.m.

North Bergen DPW crews plowed snow and dropped salt to improve operating conditions on River Road. The Jersey City Gong Club also responded to set up a rehab station, out of the smoke.

As well as their hazmat unit, Jersey City dispatched two engines, a truck and battalion chief to the fourth alarm request. On March 2, North Hudson firefighters, along with Jersey City, Hoboken and Kearny, operated at a five-alarm fire involving a large apartment building, during Nor ‘easter #2.

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