Fire Department and EMS honored for rescue operation on Route 3

Over a dozen agencies collaborated to extricate men trapped in van

Members of numerous local and state rescue agencies came together in Secaucus on Feb. 11 to extricate two individuals trapped in their vehicle after heavy cargo from a truck smashed down on the highway. Many of those who took part in the rescue operation were honored at a luncheon at Bonefish Grill on April 19.
Citations were issued by the Secaucus Fire Department to members of the Secaucus and Jersey City Fire Departments, while Meadowlands Hospital EMS issued citations to both Meadowlands and Jersey City Medical Center personnel who took part in the operations.
“It was quite amazing how everybody worked together so well,” said Frank Travisano, director of EMS for Meadowlands Hospital. “It was all different organizations working together with their specialties. Everybody knew what they had to do. And all the training came out.”
“This whole luncheon is to show our support for everything you’ve done that day and your professionalism,” Chief of the Secaucus Fire Department Brian Schoch told the assembled rescuers.

Joint rescue operations

The tractor trailer was traveling east on Route 3 when its cargo, a large steel crane, slammed into the Paterson Plank Road overpass on Feb. 11 and tumbled onto the road, crushing a white van. The crane became wedged beneath the bridge, pinning two individuals inside the van.
Emergency responders were on the scene quickly. “When you have different agencies, the fire department will handle the rescue operation,” said Schoch. “The police handle the traffic and crowd control, and obviously the investigation once everything’s done. EMS tends to the patient. We each have what we call a unified command. So I was in charge of the rescue operations.”
“Typically what happens in a bad motor vehicle accident with extrication, the car kind of encases the operator,” he continued. “What we have to do is cut the metal around them with the jaws of life to remove those people.”

The truck’s cargo, a large steel crane, slammed into the Paterson Plank Road overpass on Feb. 11 and tumbled onto the road, pinning two individuals inside a van.
Not this time. The crane that fell was made of heavy-duty, angled steel that resisted cutting. “So we had not just a regular box but a reinforced frame that fell on top of the vehicle,” Schoch said. “The way it fell, the driver was pinned between the stanchion of the bridge and the car itself. We were able to remove him within 20 minutes. The passenger was more heavily entrapped.”
The weight of the frame landed on the dash in front of the passenger, crushing the front of the car. “He’s physically pinned. That entire weight is on his legs,” said Schoch. “And you also have to remember, they’re moving at highway speeds, stopping within inches, to zero. So that also had a play in their medical condition.”
After trying unsuccessfully to remove the frame with saws, Schoch made the decision to call in the Jersey City Fire Department, with its more powerful equipment. “They have more technical knowledge so I assigned them rescue operations,” he said. “Captain Dubicki from Jersey City was in charge of what type of tools he needs and the strategy of how to remove the person from that car. At that point I provide him with whatever resources he needs.”
“There were two entrapments,” said Dubicki, captain of Squad Four, one of two Jersey City units called to the scene. “One was taken care of by the Secaucus Fire Department and the other victim was taken care of by the Jersey City Fire Department, using various extrication tools. We have more heavy rescue, more heavy duty equipment. We used a combination of everything we had.”
By utilizing a cutting torch they were able to free the passenger and remove him from the vehicle about one hour and forty minutes after the moment of impact.

Multiple agencies working in tandem

“There were three hospitals that worked together,” said Travisano. “Meadowlands, Jersey City Medical Center, and Hackensack University Medical Center.
Meadowlands EMC personnel were the first medical responders on the scene and went to work on the victim while he was still trapped in the car. “We had to get that patient stabilized before moving. You have to spinally immobilize him and pull him out,” said Travisano. “And then once the patient is spinally immobilized, the paramedics are there to intubate, start an IV. That was Jersey City Medical Center. They’re doing the IVs, the drugs. And then Hackensack brought in the helicopter. They took him off to Hackensack and they did their job.”
But those weren’t the only emergency personnel on the scene. “You also have the other agencies like the DOT,” said Schoch. “They provided structural engineers. When something’s damaged that severely, we rely on them to bring in a structural engineer because we have to know what happened to that bridge. What’s going to happen to us if we’re under it.”
“We had some concrete falling down,” said Travisano, “and when the DOT got there they said don’t worry about the concrete, it’s just a façade. It has nothing to do with the structure.”
With the highway shut down during the rescue operations, additional agencies assisted with traffic control, while still others handled accident investigation and removal of the crane parts and tractor trailer.
Among those participating were the state police, Port Authority Bridge & Tunnel Agents and Police, NJ Transit, the North Bergen, Rutherford, and Bergen County Police Departments, the Bergen County Sheriff, and the North Bergen Office of Emergency Management.
The Kearny, East Rutherford, and Lyndhurst Fire Departments provided mutual aid while the Secaucus Fire Department was on the scene, standing by in case another emergency occurred.
The driver survived his harrowing ordeal. The passenger was extricated alive from the horrendous crash, but died the following day in Hackensack UMC.
Altogether 37 fire department members and 15 emergency medical personnel received citations for their efforts under extremely difficult conditions.

Art Schwartz may be reached at

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