Jersey City Fire Truck
Jersey City Fire Truck

City Ranks in Top 1 Percent Nationally for Firefighting Standards

With the rapid proliferation of high-rise residential buildings in all areas of Jersey City — and with their active promotion by Mayor Steven Fulop — the city Fire Department is trying to be proactive to safeguard the occupants of these towers.

Last month, Fulop tweeted about the groundbreaking of 1 Journal Square, which, at 66 stories, he said is the “largest single residential project in NJ.” He went on to tweet, “We have multiple 60-story buildings plus multiple 30-story buildings under construction here. (The city’s) skyline is being transformed.”

No question about it, agrees Jersey City Fire Chief Steven McGill, a 35-year veteran. “In 1995, we had 102 high-rises (which he defined as anything above 75 feet, each story equating to about 10 feet). Today, we’re up to 208.” Additionally, he said, 12 more high-rise structures are being added in the coming year and, beyond that, developers are seeking permits for another 90.

A primary weapon relied on by the JCFD to counteract high-rise and other fires is a “standpipe” system of piping and hose connections throughout a building that firefighters or trained civilians can tap into to provide water to suppress a fire. Building owners must post the system’s operating pressure and building height for safe and efficient operation. In the event of fire, firefighters carry hose up through stairwells to link it to interior standpipe connections.

More than a decade ago, Jersey City began mandating training of designated high-rise staff as licensed fire safety managers. Licensees must apply to the city Fire Prevention Bureau for annual recertification.

Last summer, the department, which is now the largest in the state, began using two buildings from the old Montgomery Street public housing complex to train firefighters from around Hudson County to use its techniques to fight high-rise fires, McGill said.

The chief said he plans to branch out and bring in Newark and other fire departments in Essex County for training. Jersey City has about 670 personnel; Newark has roughly 570.

The department’s Tower Ladder 6 truck has a ladder that extends 95 feet, the tallest reach among all the rigs in the fleet, and, with the aid of a ladder extension, has the capacity for an additional 16 feet, according to Deputy Fire Chief Robert Daly, Office of Emergency Management/Homeland Security liaison.

Additionally, there is Engine 6, which Daly described as “the only high-pressure pumper in the fleet,” capable of generating up to 700 units of pressure per square inch (PSI), which is twice the normal load and key to spraying water to higher levels. The NYFD has at least five of these “three-stage” pump engines, he noted.

Another weapon in the JCFD’s arsenal is the High-Rise Tunnel Unit, which carries essential logistical equipment that won’t fit on the standard fire truck. Such apparatus includes compressors to operate air-powered maintenance tools, 28 one-hour Scott oxygen packs, large and portable lights, 1100 KW generator battery-operated fans, a nozzle attachment for directing water to upper floors, tarpaulins, and a Nolan rail cart for transporting persons and/or equipment through a tunnel.

These rigs were supplemented last month by two new fire companies riding Engine 1 and Squad 1 trucks newly reconditioned for deployment to city-wide and high-rise fire responses. The Squad 1 truck is the only vehicle in the fleet to be outfitted with high-tech battery-powered tools including saws, fans, lights, and an infra-red camera to help firefighters search for civilians and fellow firefighters who may be trapped in smoke-filled hallways.

McGill said Squad 1’s firefighters will function specifically as a “Rapid Intervention Crew, to save other firefighters.”

As part of its response to high-rise fire calls, the JCFD sends four engines, three ladder trucks, Squad 1, Rescue 1, and HRT, with about 50 firefighters and officers led by a deputy chief and three battalion chiefs, according to Daly. “That’s the largest response of this type in the state,” he said.

Joseph Krajnik, head of Jersey City Local 1066, Uniformed Firefighters Association, agreed with Daly’s assessment, adding that if more help were needed, “then we’d recall all available firefighters — about 120 firefighters and officers per shift — backed by mutual aid from Newark and other communities.”

Krajnik said the department “has an ongoing program to train our firefighters on fire suppression in high-rise fires,” and he credited Mayor Fulop with building up the department “even without grant money” to improve its capability of battling high-rise fires in particular.

Thus far, Krajnik said, the JCFD has been spared responses to major skyscraper fire, “but if one were to happen, we are prepared to fight that fire although it would take a great labor-intensive response.”

The department’s overall efforts citywide have been recognized by the Insurance Service Organization (ISO), which sets fire protection standards for local and regional fire departments and ranks those departments accordingly. Private insurance carriers in the U.S. base fire insurance premiums on those ratings.

Of some 39,000 fire departments nationwide rated by ISO, 450 drew Class 1 (best out of 10) ratings. JCFD is one of three fire departments in New Jersey to get a Class 1 rating, along with Hackensack and Cherry Hill, Daly said, “and that saved Jersey City residents an estimated $25 million in fire insurance fees.”

Residents are encouraged to contact their insurance companies that provide fire insurance to make sure their premium reflects the proper public protection classification of the JCFD, Daly advised.

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...