Days after a fire destroyed the Muslim prayer center on West Side Avenue on March 1, the chilly air still held the acrid scent of smoke. Workers wearing hardhats and work gloves scrambled to pick up the pieces, ducking under yellow warning tape. Members of the community of the Al-Tawheed Islamic Center were forced to relocate their daily prayers to the Jersey City Armory about seven blocks away.
While this particular blaze did not cause any deaths, it was only one of a series of fires in the last two weeks that left severe damage long after the flames were put out.
On the morning of Wednesday, March 6, four people from one family died in a 6 Grant St. fire that tore through a series of rowhouses. As many as 25 people were displaced.
Officials said that the four people who may have met fatal fates were family members, two in their 80s and their two sons.
“This is a sad time for the entire city as we lost a true public servant who served his city bravely for 29 years.” – Mayor Steve Fulop
Fire Captain Gregory Barnas, a 29-year veteran of the Jersey City Fire Department, had died from a fall off a restaurant roof while serving as a volunteer firefighter in Wallington on Feb. 28.
Barnas started out as a volunteer in Wallington as a young man, officials said, before joining the JCFD. But he continued to offer services to the town where he started.
Appointed to the JCFD in April of 1985, he was promoted to captain in 2003. He served as the company officer of Ladder 6 for most of his career.
Throughout his tenure, Barnas has been cited for acts of bravery and for actions above and beyond the call of duty, city officials said.
“This is a sad time for the entire city, as we lost a true public servant who served his city bravely for 29 years,” said Mayor Steven Fulop, “and then to use those skills to help others on his own time in his hometown. It speaks to the character of Captain Barnas.”
Gov. Christopher Christie ordered flags over state offices to be flown at half staff in his honor.
Barnas is survived by his wife, Patty, and his sons Kevin and John. Kevin was appointed to the JCFD in June 2013. John apparently aspires to become a firefighter as well.
“The Jersey City Fire Department, along with the entire public safety community as a whole, would like to extend its most sincere condolences to the Barnas family in their time of grief and offer its support in remembers of Gregory’s dedication and commitment to duty,” said a press release issued last week.
The recent blazes have been tough to fight in what some have called the “fire season.” The extreme cold is being blamed for causing a number of malfunctions in heating and hot water systems, including the threat of carbon monoxide-related injuries.
Over the course of a few days last week, nine firefighters were treated at Jersey City Medical Center for injuries related to firefighting in the cold, or to smoke-inhalation.
As for the Islamic Center fire, it was contained, failing to spread to the children’s learning center two doors down the block or the small grocery store nearby.
“The center was fully involved with fire when the Jersey City Fire Department responded to a first alarm at 5:36 a.m.,” said Bob McHugh, a public safety department spokesperson. “Fire fighters battled extreme cold and freezing water until they declared the blaze under control at 7:36 a.m.”
The cause and origin of the fire is under investigation, McHugh said.
“I’ve been told it’s related to a faulty water heater,” said Freeholder Bill O’Dea. “We are trying to find them a location to worship ‘til the facility is repaired. Need a place for 50-80 people.”
Two new fire engines
In positive news, the City Council approved the purchase of two new fire engines at a meeting a week ago Wednesday. The vehicles will help bolster an aging fleet.
Deputy Fire Director Jerry Cala said the fleet needed an upgrade. The city had originally planned to replace three vehicles a year over a five-year period. But the city fell behind and the new fire apparatus will not be delivered for from a year to 18 months after ordered.
Meanwhile, the City Council authorized the reconstruction of a firehouse floor in the Greenville section. The floor was apparently constructed badly and collapsed under the weight of a fire engine some time ago.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.