UNITED STATES NEWS

Worker tells of fleeing burning vehicle in cargo ship fire that killed 2 New Jersey firefighters

Jan 9, 2024, 10:18 PM

UNION, N.J. (AP) — Gaven Puchinsky had been pushing vehicles onto a huge cargo ship in one of the nation’s busiest seaports when he heard a loud “clunking” noise that he believed came from the yellow Jeep Wrangler he was using to nudge the cars up a steep ramp in Newark, New Jersey.

Within minutes, the ship would be ablaze in a July fire that claimed the lives of two Newark fire captains.

Puchinsky estimated he had pushed about 50 cars onto the Italian-owned Grande Costa d’Avorio when he heard a noise that he likened to dropping a wrench on the floor.

He had just maneuvered a vehicle into its spot on the 10th level of the 12-level ship that was carrying more than 1,200 automobiles when his co-workers began yelling to him.

“They started screaming at me to get out of the car because the car was on fire,” Puchinsky testified Wednesday at the start of a hearing by the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board, which are investigating the cause of the July 5 blaze. “The passenger side window was open and flames were coming in through that window. There were flaming fireballs dripping from the bottom of the vehicle.”

Puchinsky said he got out of the Jeep, ran to grab nearby fire extinguishers and emptied two onto the burning vehicle, to little effect.

“My co-workers said, ‘We gotta get off the ship,’ so I ran off the ship,” he said.

His testimony was significant because it supports allegations by the families of Newark fire Captains Augusto “Augie” Acabou and Wayne “Bear” Brooks Jr. that the Jeep started the blaze that killed them. They say the Jeep was observed to be smoking earlier in the day, although Puchinsky said he did not witness the Jeep malfunction until it caught fire.

Another worker doing the same job, Austin Costanzo, said that same yellow Jeep had overheated several times while he was operating it in the months leading up to the fire. Both Costanza and Puchinsky worked for American Maritime Services of New York. Costanzo also did not mention seeing the vehicle emit smoke.

The dead firefighters’ families announced plans in October to sue The Grimaldi Group, the Italian company that owns the ship, as well as two stevedore companies involved in loading the vessel. An attorney for Grimaldi declined comment Wednesday.

A preliminary investigation by the Coast Guard and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health indicated that the Newark Fire Department “had little to no maritime firefighting training, experience or familiarization with cargo ships of any type,” according to a Coast Guard safety alert issued in November.

Commander Christian Barger, chief of inspections and investigations for the Fifth Coast Guard District, said 13 witnesses will testify during hearings, which will run through Jan. 18. Those testifying will include crew members from the ship, dockside cargo handlers, and firefighters.

He said the hearings aim “to meticulously examine the circumstances surrounding the causes of the fire and the subsequent deaths of Firefighters Acabou and Brooks so that we can help prevent future incidents and make the shipping and port communities safer.”

While seeking the cause of the fire, the inquiry will not seek to affix blame to anyone, Barger said. It will instead issue safety recommendations beyond those included in a Nov. 20 alert. That guidance recommended that local fire departments and ports establish regular shipboard firefighting education and training, including language translation capabilities for non-English-speaking crews.

___

Follow Wayne Parry on X, formerly Twitter, at www.twitter.com/WayneParryAC

United States News

The Supreme Court on Friday struck down a Trump-era ban on bump stocks. (Photo by George Frey/Getty...

Associated Press

Supreme Court strikes down Trump-era ban on rapid-fire rifle bump stocks, reopening political fight

The Supreme Court on Friday struck down a Trump-era ban on bump stocks, the rapid-fire gun accessories used in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

6 hours ago

Associated Press

Couple rescued from desert near California’s Joshua Tree National Park after running out of water

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A couple hiking in the desert south of Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California was rescued after running out of water, authorities said. On Sunday, the man called 911 and reported that his girlfriend was dehydrated and weak, according to a statement from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office posted Monday […]

7 hours ago

Hugo López of Al Otro Lado advocacy group hands a pamphlet to Antonio Cortes, a Mexican man who wa...

Associated Press

Some Mexican shelters see crowding south of the border as Biden’s asylum ban takes hold

Some shelters south of the U.S. border are caring for many more migrants now that the Biden administration stopped considering most asylum requests.

7 hours ago

Associated Press

Crews rescue 28 people trapped upside down high on Oregon amusement park ride

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Emergency crews in Oregon rescued 28 people Friday after they were stuck for about half an hour dangling upside down high on a ride at a century-old amusement park. Portland Fire and Rescue said on the social platform X that firefighters worked with engineers at Oaks Park to manually lower the […]

8 hours ago

Associated Press

Independent report criticizes Cuomo’s ‘top-down’ management of New York’s COVID-19 response

NEW YORK (AP) — An investigation into New York’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic found former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “top down” approach of dictating public health policy through his office, rather than coordinating with state and local agencies, sewed confusion during the crisis. In the state’s nursing homes, where some 15,000 people died, the administration’s […]

8 hours ago

Associated Press

Judge dismisses lawsuit challenging federal rules to accommodate abortions for workers

CHICAGO (AP) — A lawsuit filed by 17 states challenging federal rules entitling workers to time off and other accommodations for abortions lacks standing, a federal judge in Arkansas ruled on Friday. Republican attorneys general from each state, led by Arkansas and Tennessee, sued the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in April, days after the agency […]

9 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Sanderson Ford

3 new rides for 3 new road trips in Arizona

It's time for the Sanderson Ford Memorial Day sale with the Mighty Fine 69 Anniversary, as Sanderson Ford turned 69 years old in May.

...

Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.

...

DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

Worker tells of fleeing burning vehicle in cargo ship fire that killed 2 New Jersey firefighters