BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Chief of Police Mike Mathis provided an overview to the Township Council at this week’s council meeting describing the severity of the water main break that occurred on April 26 at the construction site on Snyder Avenue Park.
Vollers Excavating and Construction was performing an air test on a replaced water pipe when the explosion occurred.
The police vehicles had just relocated for the work crew and the officers were setting up traffic control. The two police officers were standing by the corner of the back unmarked police vehicle – steps from where the explosion occurred.
The asphalt debris flew 20 feet in the air. The largest pieces [approximately 500 pound pieces] flew forward and crushed the front police vehicle and destroyed the equipment in the trunk. The explosion created a 4 ½-foot crater.
“If the debris went the other way, the cops would be dead,” said Mathis. They are lucky they didn’t get killed when they ran the direction of the park with the debris flying said Mathis. Their uniforms had holes from the asphalt that hit them.
Mathis thanked the Fire Department [who remained on the scene in case a gas main was involved] and the Berkeley Heights Rescue Squad who transported the two police officers to Morristown Memorial Hospital for non-life threatening injuries. Councilwoman Jeanne Kingsley and Mayor Joe Bruno came to the scene.
There was no sign that this was going to happen, it was a freak accident said Mathis. The cause of the explosion is still under investigation by Vollers and the water company.
All officers who were working that day came to the scene which included 12 cars from the fleet. “It takes a lot of cars to respond to a call,” said Mathis. Cars were needed to block off roadways.
Mathis stated that it was fortunate that no innocent bystanders were hurt. Accidents during traffic control are the leading cause of death said Mathis. We are trained and we know what to do in these situations, said Mathis.
Police should be commended for a job well done said Kingsley.
Mathis advised the council that he wished he had more cops, and said they are down a few. “The academy [Youth Police Academy] starts in July and would like to get men on. There are spots open,” said Mathis.