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

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Friday, July 7, 2023
Port Newark deadly cargo fire: What went wrong?
CeFaan Kim has more on what went wrong and what can be done after two firefighters were killed while battling a fire on a cargo ship at Port Newark.

PORT NEWARK, New Jersey (WABC) -- As Newark and the entire firefighting community grieve the loss of two fellow firefighters killed while battling flames on a cargo ship, the investigation into what sparked the fire continues.

The blaze began deep inside a docked cargo ship carrying more than a thousand vehicles, officials said Thursday.

Responding firefighters found five to seven vehicles already on fire when they reached the 10th floor of the cargo ship at Port Newark around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday night. The blaze quickly extended to the 11th and 12th floors, and as firefighters were pushed back by the intense heat, two of them were lost and five were injured.

Augusto "Augie" Acabou, 45, and Wayne "Bear" Brooks Jr., 49, were later identified as the fallen firefighters.

Left: Wayne Brooks, Jr. and right: Augusto Acabou

There are new questions about how the fire response was carried out, including why the firefighters responded if they weren't fully trained. It's possible the crews didn't have the appropriate training because access to ships to train on is limited and expensive.

One of the issues encountered by Newark firefighters was their 2 inch fire hose lines were not compatible with the European-made ship's 1 inch connections. Newark firefighters could not use their hose lines, and were instead forced to use the fire hoses on the boat, which output less water and pressure then they are used to.

There are also questions whether there are enough Port Authority fire brigade units.

The Port Authority runs Port Newark and calls on firefighters from Newark and Elizabeth to help with fires at the port. But this kind of fire was especially tricky according to Steven McGill, the former fire chief in Jersey City.

"The stairwells and doorways are very small, with all the equipment it's very difficult to get into those hallways, a maze and a very small maze, it's extremely difficult," McGill said.

And even though the ship had a fire suppression system, a sprinkler system, that can create challenges for firefighters in terms of how that smoke moves around.

Chief Rufus Jackson said while there has been some shipboard fire-fighting training for Newark firefighters, this was different because of the kind of ship and the kind of cargo on board.

"It's definitely a different structure, a different type of fight firefighting," Jackson said. "This vessel was unique, because it's not like it's a residential ship or a yacht of some sort with some type of living quarters. This one was unique because it was a vessel that helped hot cars, vehicles, a large amount of vehicles. So this was definitely a unique fire for us."

Authorities released a full timeline of the incident after the initial response at 9:35 p.m.:

-10:25 p.m. - Newark Firefighters called the first Mayday as two Newark Firefighters became trapped inside the cargo ship

-10:40 p.m. - Newark Firefighter called the second Mayday

-11:17 p.m. - 2nd Alarm called

-11:39 p.m. - Fire Rescue personnel contacted trapped Newark Firefighter Augusto Acabou

-12:15 a.m. - Injured Elizabeth Rescue Firefighter was transported to University Hospital for treatment

-12:45 a.m. - Trapped Newark Firefighter Augusto Acabou was located and transported to University Hospital

-1:11 a.m. - One Newark Firefighter and one Elizabeth Firefighter were reported in stable condition by University Hospital personnel

-1:11 a.m. - Newark Firefighter Augusto Acabou was pronounced deceased at University Hospital

-1:20 a.m. - Search continues for second trapped Newark Firefighter Wayne Brooks, Jr.

-2:25 a.m. - Newark Firefighter Wayne Brooks, Jr. was located within the cargo ship

-3:05 a.m. - Newark Firefighter Wayne Brooks, Jr. was rescued and transported to University Hospital where he was pronounced deceased

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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