August 16, 2018
I would like to express my sincere gratitude, admiration and respect for the New Hyde Park Fire Department.
Last week we had a terrible electrical storm rumble through New Hyde Park. One of the impacts from that storm was a fire that erupted at the LIRR substation located on Third Avenue and South 9th Street. The fire was apparently caused by a surge of electricity from the lightning storm.
To my limited understanding, the substation provides electrical service to the LIRR third track. The substation is fed by electrical lines brining in power at 60,000 volts of electricity. The substation also receives and stores excess power from the third rail.
The response and management of this situation by the New Hyde Park Fire Department was outstanding. The NHPFD had a massive turnout and had backup from several other fire departments who were on scene. While the fire seemed to be confined to the substation, the Fire Department ordered the evacuation of the surrounding homes in the event the fire spread suddenly. The Fire Department was prevented from going into the substation compound to fight the fire until PSE&G and the LIRR confirmed that power had been cut off and the risk to firefighters was reduced. Note: that is not to say that it was safe for firefighters to go in.
Having secured the area, the NHPFD quickly established a command post as they recognized this situation would involve the coordination of many different agencies. I signed into the command post to offer any support the NHPFD might need of the Village. Tom Gannon, Superintendent of Buildings and Public Works was also on scene. Other agencies included a senior official from the MTA who has been our liaison on the Third Track Project, LIRR Operations and Electrical Engineering, MTA Police, Nassau County Police, Nassau County Fire Marshall, Nassau County Office of Emergency Management and PSE&G. The command center was expertly run by John Nykiel of the New Hyde Park Fire Department.
Early in the event, Senator Elaine Phillips called me to offer any support her office could provide in the delivery of state services or using her influence with local hospitals, etc. Thankfully, there were no injuries to civilians or firefighters.
It was extremely impressive to have a close-up view of the New Hyde Park Fire Department in action. They are highly professional, and we are very fortunate to be under their protection.
The fire was apparently fueled by oil in the substation. The smoke billowed out across the railroad tracks as a diesel powered double decker train loaded with people crawled past the fire. Huge sparks could be seen jumping between the third rail and the train. After that, train service was closed on the main line in New Hyde Park. The gates at all three New Hyde Park crossings were locked in the down position, backing up traffic on New Hyde Park Road and Covert Avenue. The grade crossings were manned by MTA police.
Due to the potential toxic nature of the smoke, the NHPDFD asked me to use our robocall system to alert people living within a five block radius of the incident to keep windows closed and shelter in place.
At what point, the LIRR Electrical Engineer confirmed that electrical service between the third track and the substation had been cut. Upon receiving confirmation from LIRR Operations Center, the NHPFD then authorized the LIRR to resume train service on the mainline. The NHPFD also needed confirmation from PSE&G that their service into the substation was also cut before firefighters could enter the compound and begin extinguishing the flames.
It is still unclear why it took PSE&G what seemed to me to be over two hours to provide that confirmation. I am certain that the massive electrical storm that came through the area caused numerous problems with electrical service throughout the area that night. However, I am not aware of other situations that should have received a higher priority than a working fire at an electrical substation surrounded by residential homes and a commercial building, closure of the LIRR mainline train service and the evacuation of residents from their homes for approximately 4 hours. I have asked PSE&G to provide a timeline explaining their response. I credit Tom Gannon for reaching his PSE&G External Affairs Manager and Rich Nicolello who responded to my request to contact County Executive Laura Curran to expedite the response from PSE&G.
That confirmation was finally delivered and after consulting with the Nassau County Fire Marshall and with the LIRR on the specific layout of the building and its contents, the NHPFD mounted their assault, with limited manpower to put fewer souls at risk from the 6000 fire and the 60,000 volt lines that remained energized.
The New Hyde Park Fire Department quickly extinguished the fire at around 10:30 pm and allowed residents to return to their homes.
The incident provided some insight into the heavy traffic we are likely to experience when the Third Track Project begins in earnest. The cars lining up at the crossing waiting to go nowhere and then trying to make U-turns and racing through the nearby residential streets; trying to find an outlet to the next crossing. The condition illustrated the concern we have expressed for over 2 years since this project was announced.
This week we will re-engage with leaders from 3TC, the design-build firm contracted by the LIRR to stress that we are still waiting for a comprehensive, dynamic traffic management plan that effectively redirects traffic with minimal impact on our community.
The substation fire also highlighted the need for positioning emergency response equipment on the south side of the tracks once the construction starts. This will be another topic on our agenda with 3TC.
Most significantly this incident provided a vivid reminder of the professionalism and dedication possessed by the men and women of the New Hyde Park Fire Department. Our community is very lucky to be in their good hands when trouble strikes.
Lawrence J. Montreuil