FFs Killed in NJ Ship Fire Were Seasoned Veterans

July 6, 2023
Firefighters Augusto “Augie” Acabou and Wayne “Bear” Brooks Jr., who died in the ship fire, had 10 and 16 years on the Newark Fire Department, respectively.

Two firefighters who died fighting a blaze aboard a cargo ship Wednesday night in Port Newark were long-time Newark first responders, city officials said.

Augusto “Augie” Acabou, 45, and Wayne “Bear” Brooks Jr., 49, were killed after they were trapped in a fire that broke out about 9:25 p.m. aboard the Grande Costa D’avorio, a cargo ship carrying vehicles that was docked at the port.

Acabou had nearly 10 years of service and was a member of Engine 16 Tour 1. Brooks had 16 years of service and was from Ladder 4 Tour 1, according to city officials.

Three firefighters from Newark and two from Elizabeth were also injured, officials said. Their conditions were not immediately available Thursday morning.

City firefighters were not prepared to fight an intense fire aboard a large ship carrying vehicles, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said during a press conference Thursday morning.

“They probably that morning didn’t think that they’d be fighting a fire on a ship of 5,000 cars, something that they had not trained for,” Baraka said.

“All night and this morning I keep having images of two firefighters being lowered down from a pulley from a ship that had to be at least 150 feet or so high, and firefighters lined up on both sides as their fallen brothers were taken to the hospital,” Baraka said.

“That image will forever be stamped in my mind. How dangerous this job is and how precarious things can be for our men and women in the fire service as they do their best to save people’s lives and property,” Baraka said.

Gov. Phil Murphy said he planned to head to the site in Newark via helicopter Thursday afternoon.

“Just an awful tragedy,” Murphy said.

He also said the state and other agencies will investigate what happens.

“In any situation we have a loss of life, the (state) Department of Community Affairs will do a complete postmortem,” Murphy said. “I think you’re gonna have multiple jurisdictions reviewing this, trying to figure out what happened, why it happen, and prevent it from ever happening again.”

At 1:25 p.m. Thursday, the cargo ship fire was still burning. Explosions and heavy fire could be heard and seen near the stern of the ship. Two New York City fire boats were on the scene battling the blaze.

When the fire first broke out Wednesday, firefighters from Hudson, Union, Essex, Bergen and the FDNY provided mutual aid as the massive ship burned next to the dock through the night, authorities said.

Newark Fire Chief Rufus Jackson said the fire was on the 10th deck of the ship and seven vehicles were engulfed in flames when firefighters got there Wednesday night.

Firefighters were forced back due to intense heat from the flames. “Two firefighters were lost conducting this action (of backing out),” Jackson told reporters.

As firefighters were on the 10th and 11th decks, there was a mayday around 10:25 p.m from Acabou, who was trapped in the fire, officials said. He was eventually rescued at 12:45 a.m., more than two hours later, by members of the FDNY after multiple efforts under extreme conditions.

Acabou was transported to University Hospital in Newark, where he was pronounced dead, officials said.

There was another mayday around 10:40 p.m. from Brooks, who was also trapped, officials said. He was also eventually brought out by firefighters around 3:05 a.m.

Brooks was also taken to University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Grimaldi Deep Sea, a division of the Grimaldi Group and operator of the ship, said the Italian-flag vessel was completing the loading of cars, vans and trucks when when the fire started on deck 10.

“The crew of the vessel immediately activated the on-board fire suppression procedures while the local firefighting service were alerted, and their prompt response played a crucial role in containing and bringing the fire under control,” the company said in a statement.

The ship, which has a crew of 28, is carrying over 1,200 vehicles, including used cars and vans, the company said. It is also carrying 157 containers and is used for a North America to West Africa route.

“There are no electric cars nor hazardous cargo on board,” the company said.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday that it will investigate the ship fire, but the Coast Guard is taking the lead, said Jennifer Gabris, an NTSB spokeswoman. The NTSB has authority to investigate maritime accidents.

The Newark fire house for Engine 16, where Acabou was based, had purple and black bunting hanging out of a second floor window Thursday afternoon. The firehouse is on Ferry Street in Newark’s Ironbound section, close to the port.

Firefighters in uniform and civilian clothes somberly embraced as they came and went. None would comment.

In a statement, the Newark Firefighters Union called Acabou and Brooks brave brothers who are being mourned by fellow firefighters and the community.

“We are grateful for the outpouring of support the community has extended to Newark firefighters,” the statement said.

“Just as we have always been there for the people of Newark in their time of need, you are here for us in our time of need. We will honor the sacrifice of Augie and Bear by continuing to do the job they loved, so if the people of Newark need help, we are still a phone call away,” the statement said.

NJ Advance Media staff writers Brent Johnson and Steve Strunsky contributed to this report.

Anthony G. Attrino may be reached at [email protected].

Jackie Roman may be reached at [email protected].

©2023 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit nj.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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