Newark fallen firefighter families hope to prevent another tragedy

Dan Krauth Image
Wednesday, April 3, 2024
Newark fallen firefighter families hope to prevent another tragedy
Dan Krauth has the story on the Newark fire.

NEWARK, New Jersey (WABC) -- "He said 'I'll call you when I get back to the firehouse' and that was it," said Michele Brooks, who recounted the final moments she spoke to her husband Wayne "Bear" Brooks.

Brooks and Augie Acabou of the Newark Fire Department rushed onto a burning cargo ship at Port Newark on July 5 when everyone else ran out.

"It changed my whole life," said Acabou's mother Maria. "I used to be so happy, not anymore."

In an exclusive interview, the families say their loved ones never should've been sent in to fight the fire in the first place.

They're now trying to prevent a similar tragedy from happening again.

Eight months after the fatal fire, we're learning new details about what went wrong, as the attorney for the families plans to file new lawsuits in the case this month.

"In them giving their all, we've lost our all," said Brooks.

RELATED | Investigation underway into what sparked deadly cargo ship fire in Port Newark

The fire started inside a "pusher" jeep that was used to push old cars onto the cargo ship. The fire quickly spread.

"I just hate that two people had to die for all of this to be brought to the surface," said Brooks.

Some other similar sized ports, like Houston, have their own dedicated fire department.

"It's a lot of responsibility," said Chief William Buck, Fire Chief for the Port of Houston. "It's a very specialized career field."

Port Newark does not have a dedicated department. Instead, it relies on the city of Newark and other municipalities to fight all port fires. Even though an initial Coast Guard investigation revealed Newark "... had little to no maritime firefighting training, experience, and familiarization with cargo ships of any type."

"They had no training, they were inadequately staffed," said Edward Kelly, President of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

The Coast Guard held hearings to investigate what went wrong. The results of their full investigation haven't been released yet.

During the hearings, the firefighter who was the last to see Acabou and Brooks alive testified that he wasn't equipped to conduct shipboard operations.

"It's a horrible loss and this was so preventable," said Acabou's brother Miguel.

The Newark chief in charge of training told federal investigators the department still hasn't adopted a new training program.

"It seems like no one is paying attention to this is actually addressing the issue, this is going to take time and money to do this but we need to start now," said Glenn Corbett, a fire expert with John Jay College.

"It has been many months now and they still don't have training," said Mark Apostolos, the attorney representing both families.

The city of Newark said it can't answer any questions due to the ongoing federal investigations.

The Port Authority released a statement:

"The tragic fire aboard the Grande Costa d'Avorio highlights the compelling need for all stakeholders to review emergency protocols that have been in place over the past 20 years. As part of efforts to update those protocols, we are participating in a robust dialogue with federal, state and local partners for the establishment of governmental fire safety standards to allow all port stakeholders to prepare for future emergencies of this kind."

The attorney for the victims' families filed a letter of intent to sue the city of Newark and the Port Authority. Those lawsuits could be filed within the next week.

The attorney representing the families says the fire could've been prevented in the first place. He says there were two big mistakes that happened onboard before firefighters arrived at the scene and multiple problems once the fire broke out.

Eyewitness News will have more on that angle of the story on Thursday at 5 p.m.

ALSO READ | New details revealed in hearings into deaths of Newark firefighters

Dan Krauth has more on the investigation.



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