Three-Alarm Fire Races Through Union City (NJ) Dwelling on Deputy Chief’s Final Tour

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By Ron Jeffers

North Hudson Regional (NJ) firefighters begin their tour of duty at 7:30 a.m. On this day, November 28th, Group 3 prepared to say goodbye to their deputy chief, who was retiring after 44-years of service–but duty called first.

At 7:31 a.m., fire companies were dispatched to a reported fire in the area of Palisade Avenue & Sixth St. Smoke was visible from a distance as responding units were redirected to the 14th Street viaduct, which connects Union City (NJ) with Hoboken. A brush fire sent smoke into the sky. This hard-to-reach fire on the Palisades cliffs took some time to access as firefighters worked to get a hoseline into place and extinguish the flames.

As firefighters were still operating here and at another alarm, at 9:35 a.m. fire control dispatched a full assignment to 910 Kennedy Boulevard, Union City, for a reported structure fire. In coming companies were also informed by fire control that there were reports of people trapped and on fire escapes. Smoke was again visible from a distance.

Upon arrival, firefighters found smoke pushing from a four-story occupied multiple dwelling. There were off-duty firefighters there already assisting in the evacuation. Officials also report that a city police officer was bitten by a dog as he assisted in the evacuation. First Battalion Chief Lenny Calvo transmitted a second-alarm.

Two men were on a fire escape, but the drop latter to the ground did not work. Firefighters set up ground ladders to rescue them. Two women inside the building did not appreciate this means of egress and refused to climb down ladders. After the original body of fire was knocked down in a first-floor apartment, firefighters escorted them out the front door.

Additional ambulances were ordered and a third alarm struck by Deputy Chief Mike Cranwell for additional personnel. Companies still at the brush fire were assisted by city police and sheriff officers by moving hoselines off the viaduct to let those fire companies respond to the fire.

Flames extended upward through a pipe-chase and walls to upper floors of the four-story structure. As firefighters opened up the walls on the second floor above the fire apartment, there was heavy fire showing. The flames were extinguished and the fire was stopped before it could affect the third floor.            

Residents were placed into a city police van and the Red Cross was at the scene to offer assistance. The Jersey City Gong Club canteen truck responded with bottled water for the exhausted firefighters, and coffee was offered to the members by the Coach House restaurant, which is located across the street.

When fire units became available they stopped by the 29th Street firehouse to wish Deputy Chief Cranwell the best in his retirement. The chief started his career with the former Union City Fire Department and many retired city firefighters were present. North Hudson Fire Directors Jeff Welz and Mike DeOrio, Fire Control co-Director Joe Isola, and Chief of Department Frank Montagne were also present.

Chief Montagne expressed how D.C. Cranwell was instrumental in improving the department and making conditions safer for all.

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