Bound Brook Mobilization/2007
In a scene reminiscent of the aftermath of Tropical Storm Floyd, thousands of New Jersey residents were evacuated from their homes following a powerful nor’easter that dropped torrential rain across the state for three straight days in mid-April, 2007. Among the hardest hit communities was Bound Brook, Somerset County, scene of epic flooding during Floyd in 1999. The Fanwood Rescue Squad was among dozens of EMS, fire and law enforcement units from across central and northern New Jersey to assist Bound Brook with evacuations, 911 call responses, flood control, security and health care at evacuation centers.
Squad Training Officer Jim Baxter joined the state EMS Task Force on Monday, April 16, to help construct the command center. Squad Second Lt. Tom Kranz and EMT Robert Levine spent Wednesday, April 18, covering EMS needs at several evacuation centers with rig 78. The largest of the centers, Bound Brook High School, housed up to 500 evacuees including children of all ages. They slept on cots and ate food donated to the Red Cross, which operated the shelters. Many left their homes with only a few possessions. By the third day, multiple cases of vomiting and digestive distress caused by drinking contaminated water, and a case of scabies, a parasite-borne rash that is contagious, forced a massive decontamination of the high school gym.
The Squad treated and transported three evacuees– a diabetic woman who had been without her insulin for four days, a 5 year old girl with a rash across her abdomen and a 5 year old boy who fell onto his two front teeth while playing outside the local Presbyterian church. All cases were transported to Somerset Medical Center where the ER staff was remarkably professional and pleasant despite the huge volume of cases they had seen over the past four days. Radio communications were initially conducted over the JEMS 3 VHS frequency, which meant utilizing the older, low-band radios which we still carry in the rigs. Later in the day, due to interference on JEMS 3, all visiting squads were issued radios to operate on a Somerset County emergency frequency.
The ICS command system was in play and made for a very smooth operation. Food and beverages at the command center were supplied around the clock by the Salvation Army.
A brick firewall from a building under construction in downtown Fanwood collapsed on top of an older, more fragile building next door on the afternoon of Tuesday, May 15, 2007, causing the older building to collapse and trapping three people inside.
The Livingston Wilbor Corporation, a machine shop, was destroyed. Two men, company owner Garry Wilbor and an employee were trapped under tons of concrete, metal and wood for almost an hour before firefighters and a special rescue team freed them. Both were airlifted to Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center in New Brunswick with non-life threatening injuries. They were conscious and talking with rescuers the entire time. Another employee got out virtually without a scratch after the ceiling came down around her. She walked out with the help of firefighters and was driven home from the scene by her husband. A fourth individual also escaped under his own steam.
Construction on the new building was immediately halted. An investigation into the cause of the collapse was launched by federal, state and local officials. Attention immediately focused on the firewall and whether it was adequately fastened to the superstructure of the building under construction. Investigators from the U.S. Occupational, Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), Union County Prosecutor Thomas Romankow and regional building inspectors were among those at the scene.
The Fanwood Rescue Squad and Fire Department were there within minutes of the collapse, which occurred just before 2pm at 238 South Avenue. Paramedics from Mercy 6 were also on scene immediately and coordinated the care of the victims as they were extricated from the rubble. The first-in responders were quickly backed up by Union County emergency management personnel including fire Mutual Aid Command (MAC) and the NJ EMS Task Force. Fire departments from as far away as Bayone and Jersey City responded. Rescue squads from Scotch Plains, Plainfield, Elizabeth, Summit, Cranford and Clark responded.
Once the injured men were removed from the scene, the Fanwood Rescue Squad’s primary focus shifted to keeping firefighters and other emergency responders healthy, providing water, blood pressure checks and any other medical assistance.
The Scotch Plains Rescue Squad moved both their rigs to our building where they covered EMS calls in both Fanwood and Scotch Plains until 11pm. The response from our members was tremendous. Many hearing about the collapse at work, on the radio or after they arrived home either called in or simply showed up at the scene. Thanks to all of our volunteers who stepped up for this major emergency.
“We don’t give too many of these out,” Ms. Mitchell said. “We really appreciate all you’ve done for our town.”
In addition to current members of the squad, life members Harry Mee, Jim Russell, Jim Spencer and Jim Stewart attended the brunch.
“My father really wanted to be here,” said Mrs. Baker, who had just come from visiting her father at Overlook Hospital. She told a story that she said summed up Mr. Crosby’s commitment to the squad.
“On my wedding day in 1977, a rescue squad call went out. It was during the reception. Suddenly, about half the guests disappeared to respond to the call. It was at a house somewhere in Fanwood. The members all showed up in their formal wear. Dad had on a tuxedo with a ruffled shirt. The patient asked, ‘Do you guys always show up in tuxedos?’”
The group wished Mr. Crosby a speedy recovery.
Mr. Kruthers made 116 calls last year and is up to 43 calls this year.
The Fanwood Rescue Squad was among dozens of ambulances that responded to a boiler room explosion that knocked out water and air conditioning at St. Mary’s Hospital in Passaic, NJ, early on the morning of Saturday, July 15, 2006.
The explosion took place at about 2:30 a.m., shattering many windows in the hospital.
The Passaic County sheriff broadcast an urgent request for ambulances from around northern and central New Jersey to help evacuate the patients to other facilities. At about 4:30am, our pagers went off and Sgt. Jimmy Drewes and EMT Jim Baxter, the assigned night crew, responded.
Fortunately, there were no injuries in the explosion. But with no water and air conditioning, officials decided to evacuate the roughly 80 patients inside, with 57 ambulances from Passaic City and neighboring communities helping to move them to other medical facilities.
The patients mostly went to Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Paterson, with some going to hospitals in Newark. Our crew transported two patients.
The evacuation took place as hot weather was settling into New Jersey. The National Weather Service predicted a high of 85 for Passaic City that day and the temperature was expected to reach 100 by Monday.
Mark E. Zyla, 46, a native and long time resident of Scotch Plains and Chief of Police there, died of apparent cardiac arrest Thursday night, October 13, 2005.
He was at the Sun Tavern in Fanwood when he collapsed.
Despite a quick response by Fanwood Police, the Fanwood Rescue Squad and the paramedics of Mercy 6, Mr. Zyla could not be revived.
Quoting the Scotch Plains police website, “Chief Zyla served the people of the Township of Scotch Plains with great distinction and honor for many years. He had served in the department in several capacities before recently becoming Chief of Police. He was well respected for his dedication to the safety and protection of all in the Township. We extend our condolences to the Zyla family and their friends in their time of bereavement.”
Mr. Zyla was also a member of the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad.
Mr. Zyla was laid to rest Tuesday, October 18, 2005, in a private burial following a mass at St. Bartholomew’s Church in Scotch Plains.
The Fanwood Rescue Squad, which has proudly worked hand in hand with the Scotch Plains Police for many years, offers its condolences to Chief Zyla’s family, friends and his entire department.
The Rescue Squad responded quickly when firefighters from more than a dozen communities rushed to downtown Fanwood to help our department battle a smoky fire in a turn-of-the-century building on South Avenue across from the train station.
The fire, on June 3, 2004, sent smoke pouring from second floor windows of the building housing Panda Brass, and threatened the entire block of businesses which include the popular gift store, Enchantments. It took several hours to control. The cause was electrical.
Two firefighters from Fanwood sustained minor injuries—heat exhaustion and a minor cut to a finger. Neither was hospitalized. A Scotch Plains firefighter stepped on a nail and was taken to a nearby clinic where he received a tetanus shot and was released.
North Avenue Fire/2004
Firefighters from Fanwood and three other communities worked for five hours to contain a stubborn fire at a home at 160 North Avenue on President’s Day, February 16, 2004.
Struggling through ice and sub-freezing temperatures, about 60 firefighters from our town and Plainfield, Scotch Plains and Westfield worked from 4:30pm until almost 9:30pm to get the flames knocked down. About an hour into the firefighting effort, Chief Rick Regenthal gave the order to firemen to evacuate the building for fear it would collapse under them. The remainder of the battle was mounted from outside and above. By the time the last of the flames were put out, the back half of the home was destroyed and the rest was uninhabitable.
About seven hours later, at 4:30am, the fire flared up again. Responding units quickly put it out. The following morning, the basement was pumped out and an investigation showed the cause was electrical, not the furnace as originally thought.
Owner Scott Smith and his daughter Audrey, 2, escaped unharmed. Scott’s wife, Emily, was on a plane to Arizona on a business trip at the time. The Smiths had bought the 100- year old home three years earlier and had made considerable improvements.
“All we have are the clothes we’re wearing,” Scott said as he watched the fire destroy his home.
The Smiths temporarily moved in with Scott’s brother Brian and his family, also Fanwood residents.
Fanwood firefighters arrived on scene just minutes after Smith called 911, but it was evident almost immediately that this blaze would not go out quietly. Flames shot up through the rear center of the home and began burning the frame construction from the inside out. Firefighters were hampered by cold temperatures that made the scene dangerous, forming ice on the ground and on their helmets and visors. When they returned at 4:30am to extinguish the flare up, Chief Regenthal warned his men that the inside stairway was “a sheet of ice”.
The Fanwood Rescue Squad had both its rigs and a dozen members on scene, backed up by the Scotch Plains and Mountainside Rescue Squads. Six firefighters suffered minor injuries. One was transported to the hospital with a shoulder injury. Fanwood’s Department of Public Works also responded, bringing truckloads of salt to treat the street, sidewalks and driveways. The Red Cross responded with food and beverages for firefighters.
The snow fell hard and fast, but it didn’t stop 40 people from attending a surprise brunch for Ruth Wegmann to celebrate her 40th year as a member of the Fanwood Rescue Squad. Indeed, she was surprised, even shocked, thinking she was attending a fundraising event at the squad building.
She was greeted by friends and family members, a home cooked breakfast, gifts and a proclamation read by Mayor Lou Jung (pictured, with Ruth and, from left to right, grandson Milan, daughter Barbara and son-in-law Milan, Sr.).
Ruth joined in 1963 and won several awards as she responded to over 2,000 calls. After enjoying breakfast cooked by fellow squad members, Ruth received a commemorative clock and framed photo montage of some of her career highlights (right, click to enlarge). After residing on Poplar Place in Fanwood for 50 years, Ruth recently took up residence at the Highlands nursing home in Edison where she tears up and down the hallways in her motorized wheelchair. She was driven to and from the squad building in rig 78.
Rescue squads, police departments, and fire departments are known for their service to the community and their ability to save lives. In December 2000, the Fanwood Rescue Squad (FRS), Fanwood Police Department (FPD), and Fanwood Fire Department (FFD) came together to save “one of their own” emergency service volunteers.
It was a windy and unusually warm Sunday morning. Thunder and lightening storms were in the area. The Fanwood Fire Department members had responded to back-toback calls a little after 6:00 a.m. A high turnout of volunteer firefighters were on hand to respond to calls.
On that morning, senior firefighter Jack Ruh was discovered collapsed in the kitchen and was unresponsive. The other members of the company were notified. Members immediately administered CPR. A “911” call was sent for a rescue squad, the police, and the squad’s automatic external defibrillator (AED) was retrieved from the adjacent squad building. The AED was applied and two shocks were administered as CPR continued.
As these events were unfolding, the police, the rescue squad’s night crew, and other squad members responded to the firehouse answering the call for a “man down.” According to AED tapes, Mr. Ruh “flatlined” (which means there was no pulse or breathing) twice during the episode. In each case, these functions were restored through the efforts of the squad members and later by the paramedics of Muhlenberg Hospital’s “Mercy 6” enroute to the Medical Center.
That morning, Jack Ruh was in the right place at the right time. His doctor noted that if he was anywhere else that day he would not have survived. Fireman Jack Ruh was released from the hospital the day after Christmas and is doing fine. Most mornings, he can be found enjoying a cup of coffee with his FFD Coffee Club friends.
In Fanwood, a number of firemen also serve as members on the Fanwood Rescue Squad. They work together to save lives. This day they saved the life of someone most of them knew. The end result made this past holiday season a special one.