WEST ORANGE, NJ — One West Orange firefighter remained in intensive care a week after a violent crash on Interstate 280 in the township involving a tractor trailer and a utility pick-up truck with an unresponsive patient.
New Jersey State Police confirmed that four of the five firefighters and both police officers who had been hospitalized after the accident were released from the respective hospitals they were in within a day. However, firefighter William Holder remained "in serious but stable condition in the ICU at University Hospital" as of Monday, according to West Orange Fire Chief Anthony Vecchio.
Vecchio's added that Holder, a married father of four, is "showing signs of improvement." Holder, 43, has been with the West Orange Fire Department (WOFD) for six years.
A “Meal Train” page had been established by FMBA Locals 28 and 228 on behalf of Holder’s family. According to the two units, this platform was created "to help alleviate some of the burden that's been set upon the Holder family."
"His family members are very strong individuals, but we are not meant to fight this tragedy alone," the page reads.
The Meal Train will help the Holder Family have prepared dinners from Monday through Tursday, beginning Aug. 26. As Holder is still under care at the hospital, this start date is subject to change based. Anyone wishing to donate to support Holder’s family can click HERE.
Although the page offers various ways to lend support to accommodate all those who have asked to help, the local FMBA requests that the family’s privacy be respected at this time and that the community utilize this dedicated mechanism rather than contact family members directly.
Shortly after 10 a.m. on Tuesday, July 30, the WOFD was dispatched to I-280 East at Exit 9 for a motor vehicle crash involving a tractor trailer and a utility pick-up truck. Initial fire department response was an engine and a rescue ambulance.
While on scene with the crew rendering care to the patient in the patient compartment of the ambulance, the ambulance was struck from behind by a loaded tandem dump truck, sending the ambulance crashing into the engine in front of it, according to Vecchio. In the rescue ambulance, the two-member FF/EMT crew, a New Jersey State Trooper and the patient all sustained injuries.
All ambulance occupants and additional NJ State Troopers outside the vehicle were transported to University Hospital for evaluation and treatment, according to police reports. The members of the engine company crew of three as well as two West Orange police officers were also transported to Saint Barnabas Medical Center for evaluation.
Mutual aid from Essex County Fire and EMS task forces and Nutley HazMat responded to assist with the Incident and post-incident operations.
Following the July 30 accident, one EMS responder posted about the incident on a public Facebook page called "Route 80 Rant...Commute in New Jersey" urging all drivers to be mindful of first responders—especially when lights and sirens are in use.
He explained that he and his partner, who is also his girlfriend, were the second ambulance on scene to transport a patient and were on scene when they heard an air horn of a dump truck seconds before feeling the impact as it hit their vehicle.
"We were inches away from being killed, saw fellow brothers and sisters getting hit with cars," he said. "We are out there putting our lives in danger to help and protect fellow citizens. We are everyday people like you, we go out, we have families to go home to, this is our job.
"I beg you, even if this just reaches one person. Please slow down and move over if safe if you see emergency lights, or even just a car pulled over on the side of the road."
The responder described the incident as "a huge wake up call" for him and his loved ones, stating that it "shows how quickly life can change."
"I'm not here for praise or thanking of service, because this is what we love to do; we do it because we genuinely love it," he said in a follow-up post after many community members commented to thank him. "I'm just here to remind everyone that your lunch date or anything of the sorts is not more important than someone's life. Take the extra five or 10 minutes to sit in traffic...I know it sucks, I complain about it too, but those few extra minutes can mean the difference between us coming home to our families, or a knock on our door telling our families that we wont be coming home."