Newark advances towards improved fire safety measures

November 28, 2023

IAFF’s advocacy leads to proposed safety changes in Newark

Newark, New Jersey, is moving closer to implementing new safety measures in the wake of the tragic deaths of two firefighters, Augusto “Augie” Acabou and Wayne “Bear” Brooks Jr, who lost their lives while responding to a cargo ship fire in July.

This progress comes amid growing pressure from the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and other entities.

The proposed reforms, as reported by NJ.com, include establishing a special joint task force for legislative and other changes, constructing a marine firefighting training facility at the port, and forming a specialized Newark Fire Division group with advanced training for shipboard fires.

Although Newark Mayor Ras Baraka suggests delaying these reforms until investigations by the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board are completed, the IAFF advocates for their immediate implementation.

The need for better staffing and training

Edward Kelly, General President of the IAFF, emphasized the importance of these changes, stating: “Better staffing and training lead to a safer Newark for residents and a safer working environment for firefighters.”

This statement underlines the critical need for improved preparation and resources for Newark’s firefighters, particularly in maritime firefighting.

The Coast Guard, in a recent nationwide Marine Safety Alert, acknowledged the lack of maritime firefighting training and experience within the Newark fire department.

They strongly recommended establishing regular shipboard firefighting education and developing training and response doctrine based on the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) standards.

Historical significance and department-wide issues

The deaths of Acabou and Brooks marked the first line-of-duty fatalities in Newark in over two decades.

The incident, which involved a 692-foot freighter loaded with combustible junk cars and trucks, highlighted significant gaps in training and preparedness.

Kelly remarked on the evident lack of a program for shipboard fire training in the Newark Fire Department, a major concern given the presence of the East Coast’s largest port in the city.

This lack of training was not limited to Acabou and Brooks but was a department-wide issue.

Critical gaps in resources and training

An investigation by NJ.com supported Kelly’s observations, revealing that Newark’s fireboat was out of commission and firefighters were unaware of the need for a standard international adapter for their hoses.

This gap in resources and training exposed firefighters to unnecessary risks, particularly when they were sent deep into the ship without the proper tools for safe shipyard firefighting.

Call for immediate action

Former Local 1860 President Anthony Tarantino expressed concerns over the current training level of the Newark Fire Division, stating: “Today, the Newark Fire Division is no better trained than before July 5 when it comes to Port Newark.”

He urged for immediate action, suggesting collaboration with the Coast Guard and surrounding cities with properly trained firefighters for any future shipyard fires.

Reinforcing this urgency, Kelly added: “We don’t need to wait for a Coast Guard report to tell us Newark firefighters weren’t trained for shipboard fires on July 5.

“We don’t need to wait for a NIOSH investigation to know the city’s staffing levels are dangerous.

“This IAFF will continue to use its influence to push for immediate action on these safety proposals because when it comes to firefighter and public safety, there is no time to wait”​​​​​​​​​​.

FSJA Comment

The recent developments in Newark, driven by the IAFF’s influence, signify a critical turning point in addressing longstanding safety concerns for firefighters.

The tragic loss of firefighters Acabou and Brooks has highlighted the urgent need for specialized training and resources in maritime firefighting and brought to the fore the importance of proactive measures in safeguarding our first responders.

The IAFF’s persistent advocacy and the proposed safety measures mark a significant step towards ensuring a safer working environment for firefighters and, consequently, enhanced safety for the residents of Newark.

This movement, while born out of tragedy, serves as a reminder of the continuous need for improvement and adaptation in emergency response protocols, especially in cities with unique challenges such as Newark.

The implementation of these measures will not only honor the memory of the fallen firefighters but also set a precedent for other fire departments facing similar challenges.

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