In multiple locations around the city, more than 100 people trapped in their flooded homes were rescued via fire boat as Bayonne firefighters responded to a record number of calls during Hurricane Sandy.
Calls escalated dramatically at around 6 p.m. on Oct. 29, said Fire Chief Greg Rogers, coinciding with the arrival of extreme wind conditions and a significant rise in tides, which resulted in flooding.
“From 6 until 10 p.m., the call center was bombarded by calls for assistance that rose to nearly 300 calls for Fire Department service, with over 430 calls clocked during the 24 hour period of October 29th,” Rogers said.
“The Fire Department maintained a frantic pace to assist all that needed help, and prioritized responses for elevated emergencies that included reports of trapped victims due to flooding, arching power wires, trees down, and fire,” he added.
Trained firefighters, equipped with water rescue equipment and protective gear, first entered the rising waters around 6:30 p.m. near First Street, in response to numerous calls for people trapped in their vehicles and homes by rising waters.
“During this effort, at about 7:40 p.m., firefighters responded to the 24th Street trailer park where they discovered numerous trailers in deep water, some rocking back and forth in the current and in danger of being swept away by the rising tide,” Rogers said.
“Two portable boats were launched, and a total of four people were rescued from their trailers in the deepest waters. Additional victims were assisted out of their trailers by foot. A number of animals were assisted out, including six cats that firefighters gathered and placed in a cage and took out by boat.”
Evacuations and rescues
Once the victims were evacuated from the site, firefighters on the dead-end street were temporarily trapped by a downed power wire. It had fallen in the street near the entrance to the trailer park, blocking the exit and causing a parked vehicle to catch fire. An adjacent building was also threatened and was quickly evacuated. Firefighters had to use extreme caution with the car fire due to the electrical hazard until they coincidentally caught a timely break by a large-scale power blackout that allowed for the vehicle to be extinguished.
Back at First Street, the waters continued to rise. Reports came in of two boys in danger of drowning. The boys were discovered in their home, and firefighters attempted to get to them by foot but were forced back by shoulder-deep waters. The Fire Department’s 17-foot-long Boston Whaler boat was launched at Second Street and Kennedy Boulevard. The two boys were rescued by boat along with two adults and another child.
The firefighters continued to rescue additional victims from their homes on First Street by boat, and in two separate cases lowered fire escapes from buildings into the boat where victims were able to descend to safety in the vessel. Firefighters rescued numerous people by foot through backyards and over fences. A civilian launched a jet ski that was manned by a police officer, and many other victims were rescued.
“At 8:51 p.m., firefighters responded to Henry Repeating Arms in the area of First Street for a report of people trapped on the roof of the building,” Rogers said. “Firefighters entered from Ingham Avenue, and approached the scene by inflatable raft. One male, one pregnant female, and a one-year old infant reportedly fled from a flooded trailer in the area and entered the warehouse for safety. They were reportedly forced to the roof by rising water. Firefighters were able to bring them down a fire escape, place them into the rescue raft, and float them to safety.”
At around 10 p.m., firefighters responded to the area of 22nd Street and Avenue F for multiple reports of people trapped in the building the result of rising floodwaters.
The high waters extended south from Mechanic Street to 19th Street and flooded the general area east of Prospect Avenue. The water was determined to be neck-deep in the street, and the fire department used a flat-bottomed rescue boat to remove as many as eight victims at a time from their flooded homes.
Victims were spotted waving flashlights from their windows as they called to be rescued. In one case, firefighters forced entry to a building when neighbors expressed concern over the well-being of a woman. She was discovered sleeping and unaware of the conditions. At the time of her rescue, the water had reportedly already entered her bedroom and had risen beneath her bed. She was removed to the safety of the boat.
Over 60 people were reportedly rescued by boat from the area alone.
“This was undoubtedly one of the most frantic and stressful nights that I can remember in my 32 years in the fire service.” – Fire Chief Greg Rogers
Calls continued overnight
Toward midnight, a number of calls came in regarding the flooding in the area of Colonial Drive and Sycamore Road in Country Village. Firefighters removed over 20 people trapped in their homes by flood, using a combination of boat and evacuation by foot.
Similar rescues by boat and evacuation by foot took place throughout the city throughout the night, including areas of Linnet Street and Isabella Avenue, Oak Street, the Boat Works near Avenue A, and near the Alexan at the Peninsula at Bayonne Harbor.
“This was undoubtedly one of the most frantic and stressful nights that I can remember in my 32years in the fire service with firefighters performing simultaneous rescues, for hours on end, in the most trying conditions throughout the city,” Rogers said.
“I am relieved that that we had the foresight to prepare the entire fire department over the last two years for water rescue,” he added. “Being a peninsula city, it was prudent to be prepared, and our efforts really paid off. Trained firefighters rescued over 100 people from the rising flood in just a few hours using recently acquired grant-funded water crafts, as well as specialized equipment and training. We shuttled our small boats all over the city, going from one rescue to another. During the height of the storm, the streets were like a battlefield, with downed power wires, flying debris, falling trees, and rising floods. Despite the dangers, all firefighters remained on the street doing whatever we could to help the public.”
He continued, “I am extremely proud of my men. The people of Bayonne witnessed firsthand the compassion, dedication, and capability of the Fire Department, Police Department, and EMS.”