On The Job: Jersey City

On May 24, 2010, the Jersey City, NJ, Fire Department was dispatched for an industrial accident at the Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G) plant in Jersey City. The plant covers over 250 acres, with limited accessibility, and provides power to New...


On May 24, 2010, the Jersey City, NJ, Fire Department was dispatched for an industrial accident at the Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G) plant in Jersey City. The plant covers over 250 acres, with limited accessibility, and provides power to New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland. It runs two...


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On May 24, 2010, the Jersey City, NJ, Fire Department was dispatched for an industrial accident at the Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G) plant in Jersey City. The plant covers over 250 acres, with limited accessibility, and provides power to New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland. It runs two boilers for making electricity, one on natural gas and one on coal. To run the coal unit, a stockpile of coal is kept at the site at all times. The pile of coal measures 500 feet by 500 feet and is more than 60 feet high. The coal is moved by three Caterpillar D9 bulldozers with 20-foot-wide blades into hoppers under the pile or to conveyers above the pile. The plant is run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

At 5:09 A.M., District 354 was transmitted by the Jersey City Fire Department's dispatch center for an industrial accident at the PSE&G plant at Van Keuren Avenue. On the response were 3rd Battalion Chief Joseph Zieja, Engines 7 and 11, Ladder 9, Rescue 1, the mask service unit (MSU) and the safety officer, Battalion Chief John Holinka. Each engine and ladder rides with a captain and three firefighters, the rescue with a captain and four firefighters, the battalions ride alone, and the MSU rides with a firefighter and the safety battalion. This response brought 20 personnel to the scene.

As the captain of Rescue 1, I was requested to meet with Zieja and the plant personnel on my arrival. Zieja informed me that one of the D9s had flipped over and the operator was trapped in the machine. We accompanied the plant personnel up a stairway to the conveyer system 50 feet above the pile. On the way up, I noticed a two-foot section of steel sticking up from the pile, with a D9 standing behind it. We reached a catwalk that ran along both sides of the conveyer and was six feet wide with a middle railing running its entire length. This reduced our working area. A three-foot opening at the bottom of the conveyer allowed the entire system to move across the pile.

From this vantage point, I could clearly see the machine in a hole with only two feet of the blade sticking up. This was the piece of metal I noticed as I was walking up the stairs. The machine was lying on its side with the back end lower than the front. The hole was 25 feet deep at the back of the machine and 18 feet deep at the blade. The hole was 60 feet around, with the ends undermined seven feet from the edge.

Due to the undermining of the edge, any approach from the pile was out of the question. This would only have caused the edge to collapse and bury the machine and operator even more. The cab of the machine could be seen, but the glass and doors were totally covered with four feet of coal. Contact with the operator was made by cell phone prior to our arrival. He reported that he was not injured, but could not get out of the cab of the machine.

Zieja and I concluded that our only way to gain access to the operator was to lower members the 50 feet from the conveyer system to the machine. Zieja ordered all machinery around the coal pile shut down, locked and tagged. This would stop any vibration in the area and keep more coal from falling into the hole, further burying the machine.

I then asked for Squad 4, Jersey City's light rescue with our Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) truck. The UASI system was put in place to assist municipalities in New Jersey with special operations incidents. The truck is equipped with rescue equipment, and the members of the department assigned to use the equipment are given special operations training. The state's urban search and rescue (USAR) team provides identical training to all members in the system. Eleven UASI units are in operation at 10 fire departments and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. Members of Jersey City Rescue 1 and Squad 4, with their alternates, drill with this equipment on a regular basis.

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