PATERSON - Firefighters say that they were in the middle of helping to evacuate residents when an explosion destroyed two multifamily homes in a Paterson neighborhood.
Battalion Chief Brian Rathbone says he was one of the first firefighters to respond to Goshen Street around 9 a.m. Tuesday for reports of a gas leak. He says when he pulled up, he heard the leak and made sure none of his crew got too close.
"Don't come close to the building, stop right there and start evacuating,” Rathbone says he told his crew.
Firefighters began knocking on doors telling people to get out because it was not safe. One resident initially refused to leave, according to firefighters.
"We just abruptly brought her outside so she could be evacuated. Once we got outside, shortly thereafter, the explosion took place,” says Capt. Arthur Woods.
As the explosion happened, other crews were carrying a wheelchair-bound woman down some steps. Several firefighters suffered ruptured ear drums and others suffered ear drum swelling, but all are expected to be OK.
Firefighters say that they couldn’t help but think about the Bronx home explosion that killed FDNY Battalion Chief Michael Fahy on Sept. 26.
"It was reinforced for everyone in that we have to understand the magnitude of what we're dealing with,” says Chief Michael Postorino.
The Paterson blast destroyed two homes and damaged others. Cars several blocks away were also damaged in the explosion. A total of 38 people were displaced.
Paterson Sixth Ward Councilman Andre Sayegh says that many of the displaced are immigrants who lost important documents.
“Those are hard to replace and I'm quite sure they don't have some copy on a computer. These are hard copies,” he says.
Councilman Sayegh says Muslim groups, nonprofits and local merchants have been pitching in to help with translations, food and housing for those that were displaced. The American Red Cross is also helping out.
Investigators are not sure what caused the gas to ignite and say that they cannot really begin their investigation until all the debris is cleared.