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The Asbury Park Press and WNBC-TV are both looking at the decisions made in the early stages of the fire that took out four blocks of the boardwalk in Seaside Park and Seaside Heights, New Jersey. The news reports show that it was Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd and Seaside Park Police Chief Francis Larkin who made the decision to start alerting many neighboring fire companies. The article in the Asbury Park Press by Kristi Funderburk talks to the police chiefs and Seaside Park Fire Chief David Hansen. It is the most extensive look so far at the initial operations. I encourage you to read it in its entirety. Here are some excerpts:
“This thing’s going, and we don’t need to lose everything,” (che said over the communication line.
What started as a fire at a single building on a boardwalk, where firefighters have responded to a string of major and minor incidents, had all the right ingredients to flare into a disaster, but Seaside Park Fire Chief David Hansen said that’s always easier to identify later.
“Everybody wants to be the Monday morning quarterback. Everybody,” he said this week. “They were saying this was going to be a boardwalk fire. They should’ve known this. They should’ve done that. At that point, it was one structure.”
It’s 2:20 p.m. on Sept. 12: Assistant Chief Wes Gorman of Seaside Park Fire Station 45 is in command for a potential fire on the boardwalk.
He asks for Jersey Central Power & Light minutes into his arrival.
“Do you want just your station or full response?” the dispatcher asks.
“Just Station 45 at this time,” he says.
This wasn’t a case of underestimating a fire, Hansen said this week, despite some criticisms he has heard. That was three minutes into the incident, and Gorman was still looking for the flames that had been reported.
2:25 p.m. and Seaside Heights’ Station 44 is called to the scene.
“We’re going to need more units, more firefighters,” Boyd tells his police dispatcher at 2:33 p.m. “I don’t want to overstep boundaries but it’s rolling. I’m here with the Chief of Police of Seaside Park and myself. I think you better start hitting out.”
A minute passes.
“Call mutual aid all the way around,” Boyd says. “I just heard Seaside Park call it. I’m going to make the call. We’ve got big problems. I’m going to call the county prosecutor now and advise.”
Seaside Park Police Chief Francis Larkin said this week the two police chiefs jointly made a decision to make that call.
“We had a fully involved fire. We saw the seriousness of it,” he said.
Hansen, who took command within the first 10 minutes, said this week he understands the point of view.
The fire was growing, and strong winds — the only aspect of Thursday’s situation that Hansen thinks might have lessened the ultimate devastation, if they hadn’t kicked up — are sending the fire toward Boyd’s town’s newly rebuilt boardwalk.
But Hansen also stood by Gorman’s approach.
Firefighters, who have the responsibility of calling upon fire resources, have to find the source of the fire so command knows where to direct new units when they respond, Hansen said. They also must control the units coming in because once you put a hose on the street, the trucks can’t move, he said.
“It was all part of a chess game to continually allocate resources on the scene while trying to organize new resources coming it,” Hansen said.