Newark fallen firefighter families file lawsuits after deadly cargo ship fire

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Friday, April 5, 2024
Families of 2 Newark firefighters file lawsuits after deadly ship fire
Dan Krauth has more on the lawsuits filed on Thursday.

NEWARK, New Jersey (WABC) -- An attorney representing the families of two Newark firefighters killed in the line of duty officially filed lawsuits in their loved ones deaths on Thursday.

Augie Acabou and Wayne "Bear" Brooks died while trying to put out a large cargo ship fire at Port Newark last July.

The families are suing the city of Newark, the fire department, the Port Authority and others claiming their deaths could've been prevented. They're demanding $50 million in damages and a jury trial.

An initial Coast Guard investigation showed Newark firefighters had little to no maritime training, even though they're tasked with putting out port fires.

"In them giving their all, we've lost our all," said Brooks' wife Michele Brooks. "I just can't rest knowing that we haven't done all we can to make some changes so that this never happens again."

RELATED | Newark fallen firefighter families hope to prevent another tragedy

Dan Krauth has the story on the Newark fire.

A series of Coast Guard hearings that looked into what went wrong showed the fire started inside a Jeep that was used to push old vehicles onto the cargo ship.

"The fire never should've started," said Mark Apostolos, the attorney representing the families.

Apostolos said the Jeep shouldn't have been used that night in the first place.

Ship workers testified to federal investigators that the vehicle was known to have "overheating" issues.

Once the fire broke out, the ship's crew members testified they turned on the boat's fire suppression system but couldn't shut the ship's watertight door.

"It should have been effective in being able to put the fire out," Apostolos said.

Once firefighters arrived, they testified it was difficult to communicate with one another. One firefighter described the radio communication as "horrendous."

"In my eyes, it was decades of neglect that led up to that fire," said Edward Kelly, President of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

The city of Newark wouldn't comment to Eyewitness News on what changes, if any, have been made citing the ongoing federal investigation.

The Port Authority issued 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."

"These guys are putting their lives on the line every day," Brooks said. "They should have the best equipment, equipment that works on a daily basis, training, this was all avoidable."


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