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February 01, 2024 | NEW JERSEY Ron Jeffers, New Jersey Editor
This article is a direct street report from our correspondent and has not been edited by the 1st Responder newsroom.

On Thanksgiving afternoon, many on duty firefighters around the state were preparing a firehouse turkey dinner. In West New York, members of North Hudson Ladder Co. 3 were sharing a dinner with family members present in quarters. At 5:31 p.m., an alarm of fire was transmitted that would change many lives. 

Fire control dispatched a full assignment to Bergenline Avenue and 53rd Street, West New York, for a reported fire. This was followed by dispatchers reporting numerous phone calls and people trapped on the third-floor.

Upon arrival, firefighters found heavy fire venting out of second-floor windows of a corner three-story mixed building. Second and third alarms were quickly struck. Members of Engine 5 used an extension ladder to rescue two occupants from a third-floor window, on the 53rd Street side of the building.

The entrance hallway leading to the above apartments was located at the rear of the 53rd Street side of the building, which also possessed a closed pharmacy on the ground floor.  Squad 1 and Engine 9 crews stretched a hose line to the seat of the fire. Squad 10 advanced a back-up line to the third-floor. Rescue 1 reported to the third-floor to perform a primary search. Ladder 4's duties included laddering the roof of the three-story structure and ventilation. Smoke was pushing out of the “D” side of the building between that structure and Exposure “D”, an attached two-story mixed-use building. 

Ladder Co. 3 went to the roof of the exposure to check on conditions and assist Ladder 4 with roof operations.  The crew, using an extension ladder on the “D” roof, began to assist the 4 Truck members on the fire building.

Suddenly, a strong smoke explosion erupted from the “D” building cockloft. The explosion caused the “A” brick wall to fall onto the street, plus causing a lean to collapse the roof of the exposure building. As seen on local resident videos, firefighters “vaulted into the air” from the “D” building as a result of the explosion.

Right after the explosion, a backdraft ensued in the fire building's cockloft that pushed the structure's ceiling down onto the third-floor. Local video showed the flames consuming the top floor, “A” side, apartment, plus flames vented out of the buildings side vent holes (“D” side) like a torch.

Extreme heat and embers fell on the members of Rescue 1, in the stairwell area, where everything went black. 

Several “Mayday” transmissions were made. The RIC team went to work, a PAR was conducted, members accounted for, and an evacuation of the buildings was ordered.  

Rescue 1 members self-evacuated. A rescue task force was established to assist the RIC team.

On the roof, and suffering from serious injuries, Ladder 3 members managed to crawl to each other and assist each other moving to a safer location on the roof until the rescue teams arrived. Three members of Ladder 3 were taken down an aerial ladder via stokes baskets to numerous EMS and ALS personnel from various local agencies, including West New York, Union City, Weehawken and Jersey City Medical Center.   

Exterior lines, including ladder pipes, knocked down the heavy volume of fire. Later, the lines were shut down to let the building drain. The integrity of the structure was investigated and firefighters went back to an offensive operation. 

It may be noted that there was no common hallway entrance to the apartments on the Bergenline Avenue (main street) side of the fire building, which is common among many structures on this avenue. If there was such an entrance, firefighters may have been subject to the falling bricks and debris after the explosion. No one was on that sidewalk at the time. Debris and shattered glass went clear across the two-way street.

The seriously injured members were transported to Jersey City Medical Center and Hackensack University Medical Center. Those local fire departments sent units to their respective hospitals, before the arrival of ambulances, to assist their fellow firefighters in any way they could.

The last firefighter to be released from a hospital was Firefighter Lou-Jester Isip, of Ladder Co. 3. On November 30th, numerous off duty North Hudson firefighters and Jersey City fire companies assembled at JCMC for Firefighter Isip's release from the hospital. FF Isip's injuries included two broken ankles and ribs. He was on his way home, in an ambulance, to celebrate his son's first birthday, on this date. 

After the family was settled, off duty and retired North Hudson firefighters returned to Isip's home. Under Deputy Chief Anthony Venezia's guidance, they acquired lumber supplies and built a wheel chair ramp to the entrance of his home. In addition, they put up Christmas lighting on his home. 

Once again, the fire service family takes care of their own. Here's to a speedy recovery of all injured members.

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Ron JeffersNew Jersey Editor

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