BY Joe Malinconico
September 2, 2021
PATERSON — Using jackhammers and electric saws, Paterson firefighters cut a hole through the pavement of a city bridge Wednesday night to rescue a man trapped beneath the roadway in the rising waters of the Passaic River, officials said.
As Ida lashed the city, firefighters employed an unusual strategy to save the man after other conventional rescue techniques were thwarted by the rushing waters that built a dam-like wall of debris around the Temple Street Bridge, blocking access to the victim, officials said.
“The water was rising so fast that they were fighting against the clock to save this guy,” said Paterson Fire Chief Brian McDermott.
Firefighters eventually cut through 10 inches of concrete, a thin steel plate and three-quarter-inch reinforced rebar to get to the trapped man, whom they eventually found with all but his head submerged in the river, gasping in a shrinking pocket of air, McDermott said.
Those heroics took place almost at the same time that another fire company extended an aerial ladder connected to a rescue bucket about 80 feet horizontally across floodwaters to save emergency medical technicians and a patient who became stranded when floodwaters engulfed their ambulance, the chief said. The ambulance occupants made it to safety before the vehicle became completely submerged in the flood, he added.
“It was surreal,” McDermott said of the virtually simultaneous rescues that unfolded about two blocks apart along the north side of the river.
In the course of the storm, Paterson’s first responders rescued about 250 people from flooded cars and buildings, said Mayor Andre Sayegh. About 60 vehicles were abandoned on flooded streets and 31 people sought refuge at the emergency shelter the city opened at International High School, the mayor said.
Sayegh noted that folks flooded out of the homes in neighboring towns would be welcome at the Paterson shelter. Speaking at about 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, the mayor warned that the Passaic likely would flood Paterson again later in the day, when rainwater from upriver likely would spill over the river’s banks.
“I want to caution that just because the sun is out doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods,” Sayegh said.
The mayor said the bridge rescue was the most harrowing of the stormy night. First responders were fortunate to learn about the victim’s predicament, officials said.
Rescue Truck No. 2 was headed to deploy its boat to save people on Bergen Street when a man appeared, banging on the firetruck, asking for help for his trapped friend, McDermott said. The river waters already had risen above the sides of the bridge, cutting off the man’s ability to crawl out of the trap, he said.
Firefighters were able to speak with the victim through a half-inch gap in the bridge’s expansion joint, designed to keep the structure sound during expansions and contractions caused by extreme temperatures, McDermott said.
At first, firefighters in scuba gear tried to get to the trapped man, but debris — called a “rat’s nest” by first responders — cut off their access, McDermott said. Debris also stymied attempts to push a rescue pipe or inflated hose to the man, he added.
McDermott praised Capt. Thomas Dyk Sr. and Battalion Chief Jackson Brock for their role in the rescue. He also noted that Public Works Director William Rodriguez cleared debris from the bridge road as the firefighter cut their way to the victim.
The city will repair the bridge, which remains partially open with barrels blocking the area where the hole was cut.
“I’ve seen some crazy rescues in my 26 years,” McDermott said. “But nothing like this.”
Original article can be found here.