"This is a great step forward in ensuring the safety and security of our region," said Mayor Albio Sires of West New York last week.
Over 300 specially trained members from throughout North Jersey make up the Metro Strike Team, which was started through the Urban Area Security Initiative to respond immediately to emergencies such as collapse rescue, trench rescue, and confined space rescue, as well as heavy lifting and moving.
Sires, who is now representative of the 13th Congressional District, was also former State Assembly Speaker, and created the Homeland Security Committee for the New Jersey State Assembly.
"Having this frontline equipment is significant, because it is now possible for specialized personnel closest to the emergency to arrive immediately," said Sires.
Funds for the new equipment were allocated through the Urban Area Initiative Grant from the Federal US Department of Homeland Security.
The North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue squad is made up of fire departments from West New York, Union City, North Bergen, Weehawken and Guttenberg.
According to North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue Deputy Fire Chief Frank Montagne, these nine rescue trucks, which will be dispersed throughout Northern Jersey fire departments, will allow rescue workers to arrive at the scene of an emergency within half an hour. In the past, specialized emergency response teams would have to come from Lakehurst Naval Air Base, located over an hour away.
"It would take roughly one and a half hours to get [outside] sources up and running to help us," said Montagne. "If local municipalities have the same equipment, it allows us to respond quicker. We can respond within 30 minutes anywhere in Hudson County and Essex County; that was the concept of the [metro] strike team."
"The urban search and rescue team have been developing this project for roughly three years now," said Montagne. "We wanted a team that had resources available quickly to assist municipalities with major emergencies, and especially after 9/11, we knew we need a better equipped response team."
Each municipality involved with the Urban Area Security Initiative has about 40 members from the local fire department as part of the strike rescue team.
"It's very advanced training," said Montagne. "We've conducted exercises in Lakehurst, N.J., where we did a structural collapse and learned how to search in a collapsed building."
The team members also utilized specialized equipment such as listening devices and cameras to help search for survivors among collapsed concrete.
"They were trained to remove heavy pieces of concrete and how to secure the concrete to get people out of the rubble, like on 9/11," said Montagne. "We can also monitor the atmosphere and used ventilation equipment."
Team exercises have also included training in an abandoned tunnel, similar to the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, in West Virginia, which simulated a major disaster including victims, vehicles, and heavy smoke.
"We have done some great training in West Virginia," said Montagne. "They set up the tunnel as if there had been a major explosion with about 30 to 40 cars inside. People were also simulating live victims in the cars."
Rescuers were able to access the situation, and monitored the atmosphere for explosive or toxic chemical problems.
New home on 50th
As for the nine new trucks, one of them is currently being housed at NHRFR Squad One Headquarters, located at 50th Street and Broadway in West New York.
The fully equipped trucks are worth about $600,000 apiece.
Having served for a number years the state's 33rd District, which includes Guttenberg, Hoboken, North Bergen, Union City, West New York, Weehawken, and part of Jersey City, and knowing that it is part of what have been called the two most dangerous miles in the country, Sires said he is glad to see progress.