Newark fire unions call for city to improve fire department following Port Newark deaths

Union officials say the department has been neglected. They say the department is understaffed and that firefighters are using old and broken-down equipment.

Matt Trapani and Chris Keating

Jul 11, 2023, 9:41 PM

Updated 348 days ago

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The Newark firefighters' unions are calling for the city to make changes to improve the Newark Fire Department following the deaths of two of its members while fighting a cargo ship fire at Port Newark.
Union officials say the department has been neglected. They say the department is understaffed and that firefighters are using old and broken-down fire trucks and boats. The union wants city officials to immediately make improvements.
"Our large capacity fire boat wouldn't start the day of the fire. We have rigs older than firefighters driving them,” claims Michael Giunta, president of the Newark Fire Union.
The fire aboard the ship is finally out after nearly a week. Now the union wants the city to help improve the department.
“Our staffing levels are dangerously low,” says Giunta.
"Most of the department is riding with one captain and two firefighters,” says Anthony Tarantino, president of the Newark Fire Officers Union.
Union members say each rig should have five to six firefighters on board. It was on Wednesday that firefighters Augusto Acabou and Wayne Brooks, Jr. became trapped while pushing back flames while on board a cargo ship docked at the port. Neither firefighter survived.
It has been pointed out that no Newark firefighters have been trained by the Port Authority on how to fight fires on ships.
Union officials are now calling for a full-scale safety audit of the Newark Police Department. It was suggested that if this had been done earlier, lives might have been saved.
"We would have had better staffing, better training. We could've preplanned fires at the port. We may have had a different outcome had we done this a year ago,” says Ed Kelly, general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters.
Watch: Newark fire union officials hold news conference about safety issues
Union officials say that they do not think that Port Newark should have its own fire department. They say that they prefer the reinstallation of a Newark fire company at the port.
They say that the last time the Newark Fire Department had a company at the ports was 32 years ago.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka issued a statement following the union members’ claims. He wrote in part, “I find accusations of intentional understaffing and insufficient training of our public safety personnel very hurtful, and a personal affront to everything my administration and I stand for. I find the timing very questionable.”
Baraka also wrote, “I welcome all dialog that will clear up groundless misperceptions and advance the brave men and women who put their lives on the line every day for the city they love. I especially look forward to constructive communication one on one with the union, removed from public forum, in addition to a press conference regarding all these matters after we lay these men to rest. Anything else is inappropriate.”
Services for Acabou and Brooks will be held later this week at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark.


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