One firefighter and one civilian sustained minor injuries Monday morning when an underground transformer fire broke out in a PSE&G vault at a residential high-rise building on Bridge Plaza North, forcing evacuation of the building, according to the Fort Lee Fire Department.
Firefighters remained on scene at 201 Bridge Plaza North at about 11:30 a.m. Monday after the fire started with what was initially reported as an explosion more than two hours earlier.
“We believe the fire is completely extinguished at this time, but we can’t go in until PSE&G arrives on scene and cuts the power that’s remaining to the building,” said Fort Lee Fire Chief Jeff Silver at the time.
Later on Monday, Silver said it took utility crews “quite some time to get there,” cut the overhead electric feed to the building and check the underground transformer vaults before the firefighters could go back in and make sure the fire was under control.
“We couldn’t go in there until we knew for sure that the electric was off in the building,” Silver said, adding that the fire essentially “put itself out at some point.”
“It basically was contained to the underground vault where the transformer was,” he said. “Although it created a major smoke condition in the very beginning.”
Silver said a male firefighter from Fort Lee sustained minor, undisclosed injuries, for which he was treated and released.
“He’s home, and he’s fine,” Silver said, declining to provide the name of the injured fireman.
He added that a female civilian also received three stitches in her head after being hit with an unidentified object.
Silver said the building is going to be without power “for some time.”
“We have crews that are standing by in the building right now because it has no power whatsoever—no electric, no elevators, no fire alarms,” the fire chief said Monday evening. “The repair of the underground transformer is going to take some time because it was heavily damaged.”
Silver said the residents of the building, who were forced to evacuate, were allowed back into their apartments, either to stay with the understanding that there was no power and that they couldn’t use open flames like candles or stoves, or to pick up some belongings before leaving the building again.
Silver couldn’t confirm an earlier report of a possible explosion in the on the ground floor of the building.
“What they may have reported as an explosion may have been the feeds on the pole popping,” Silver said. “Or it may have been the transformer itself giving off a sound that may have sounded like an explosion.”
He said the Fort Lee Fire Department was grateful for the mutual aid support provided by the Leonia Fire Department, which served as a Firefighter Assist and Search Team (FAST), standing by in the event something happened to a firefighter.
“Cliffside Park also covered us for another call—a flooding call at a Synagogue on Center Ave.,” Silver said.