At around 8:30 p.m. on Monday night, January 2, the sirens began screaming in the area of State Street and Teaneck Road. First a solitary squad car appeared in front of the five story multi-family building at 34 State Street, but soon more vehicles arrived and the muffled sounds of sirens in the distance, from many directions, alerted residents to the imminent arrival of others. By 8:40 p.m. the area was congested with most, if not all, of the Teaneck fire engines, three TVAC (Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps) ambulances and crews, and additional engines from Englewood and Hackensack, including their huge tiller ladder truck. Commonly termed by most as “hook and ladder” trucks, these are engines with ladders that extend up the side of a building, so firefighters can inspect and work from the outside, in this case all the way to the roof.
The building was evacuated safely and uneventfully, according to Teaneck Fire Chief Joseph Berchtold, and an electrical appliance fire in a fifth floor apartment was quickly extinguished. There were no reported injuries, but the occupant of the apartment was transported to Holy Name Hospital by a TVAC ambulance crew, with no further information on his condition. By about 9:10 p.m., residents were cleared to return to the building.
In the meantime, said Chief Berchtold, fire crews continued to survey the roof and attic space above the fifth floor to ensure there was no additional fire risk, and to finish venting the smoke. He said that in addition to their two fire engines, four firefighters and a chief came to assist from two of Teaneck’s neighboring communities, Englewood and Hackensack.
To support the absence of equipment and personnel in those two communities, Berchtold said, “The Bergen County (fire) coordinator, who was also present on the scene, recruited personnel and equipment from Bogota, Bergenfield and Richfield to fill in at the fire stations in Hackensack and Englewood while theirs were in Teaneck helping us out.
“The Bergen County Coordinator also serves to manage [personnel and equipment] support coming in from other communities, as well as for those communities’ own incidents while their equipment and personnel are tied up here. Bogota and Bergenfield each sent a fire engine to Hackensack and Englewood, and Richfield sent a ladder truck to fill in,” while theirs were busy in Teaneck, he added.
Teaneck Battalion Chief John Dixon reported that, “the entire platoon of Teaneck firefighters responded to this fire,” amounting to about 15 or 16 people. All told there were about 30 firefighters, plus the TVAC crews and Teaneck police department support.
TVAC Captain Zachary Kohn also coordinated the “rehab” procedure, in which every firefighter undergoes a post-fire health screening. Kohn explained, “Especially the physical, but also other stresses associated with fighting a fire can pose cardiac and other risks. They are wearing and handling a lot of heavy equipment, and they can trip on hoses and slip on wet surfaces.”
One of the last duties of TVAC at a fire scene is to set up and perform the screenings. At this scene, one of the ambulances had a row of chairs set up behind it, for the firefighters to line up for their screenings. “Rehab” is a nationally mandated procedure, according to Fire Chief Berchtold.
Including the screenings, this fire event took about 90 minutes from start to finish, and “that was short!” he concluded.
By Ellie Wolf