Edison picks up pieces as fire is investigated

Staff Writer

EDISON — More than a month after the fourth fire in two years at the township’s public works facility, investigators say they have yet to determine the cause.

Tim Morley, Edison fire official, said the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office is handling the investigation into the Jan. 29 blaze. Jim O’Neill, spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, said the probe is ongoing.

The fire consumed the maintenance garage at the site on New Durham Road, destroying 11 salt spreaders with attached snowplows, three street sweepers, three repaving vehicles, a road-maintenance truck and a firetruck that was awaiting repairs, officials said.

Along with the nearly 100 firefighters it took to quell the flames, crews from PSE&G worked for hours to shut off an underground natural gas line that ruptured at the site, Morley said.

Township officials said they have set about replacing the public works equipment as quickly as possible.

“Edison has made the most essential equipment purchases at the most reasonable cost to taxpayers,” Mayor Thomas Lankey said. “The town must ensure the safety of our residents and motorists who use our streets.”

Woodbridge Township stepped in after the fire to loan Edison four of its older trucks — two salt trucks with plows and two sanitation trucks with plows, according to John Hagerty, spokesman for Woodbridge.

“We anticipate Edison keeping the vehicles for several more weeks,” Hagerty said, adding that the loan has not affected services in Woodbridge.

In return for the favor, Edison assisted Woodbridge’s Public Works Department by delivering salt when it was running low there, according to Hagerty.

“The outpouring of help offered to our community was extremely comforting and inspiring,” Lankey wrote in a letter to Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac in February.

In February, the Edison Township Council approved $865,810 in emergency spending to replace some of the lost public works equipment. The allocation covered $120,000 in salt from Winter Services of Ringwood; $129,855 for a Freightliner plow with a salt spreader from Valley Freightliner in Parma, Ohio; $139,998 for a Peterbilt plow from Hunter Truck Sales in Butler, Pennsylvania; $137,653 for three plows from Freehold Ford; $126,200 for a Mack truck with a plow from Cambria Automotive in Edison; $181,984 for a Freightliner cab and chassis from Freightliner Hartford in Connecticut; and $30,120 for six spreaders from A&K Equipment Company in Rahway, according to officials.

Edison’s membership in the Central Jersey Joint Insurance Fund — an alternative insurance program for municipalities, described as somewhere between self-insurance and traditional insurance — helped the township get through the disaster.

The program, administered by PERMA Inc., an affiliate of Conner Strong & Buckelew, allowed the township to secure rental trucks to plow township roads after a snowstorm blanketed the area on the evening of Feb. 1. The trucks arrived shortly before the storm began, according to a representative of the joint insurance fund.

Joseph Hrubash, executive director of the joint insurance fund and vice president at Conner Strong & Buckelew, and Brad Stokes, vice president of PERMA and now deputy executive director of the joint insurance fund, were credited for leading the effort to arrange for the rental trucks. The trucks augmented those lent by Woodbridge, which is also a member of the joint insurance fund.

Securing the trucks through the insurance fund was especially difficult, because almost every truck that fit the township’s needs was already committed to the state or to another government agency or commercial enterprise, according to the joint insurance fund spokeswoman.