Injured NJ fire chief recounts deck collapse

Branchville Hose Company No. 1 Chief Jonathan Frato said they had just finished dinner when "everything pancaked" and the decks collapsed, injuring over 20 people


By Rob Jennings
NJ Advance Media Group, Edison, N.J.

WILDWOOD, N.J. — One moment, firefighters and family members from Branchville were relaxing on a second-floor deck at a Jersey Shore beach house Saturday night.

The next moment, pandemonium.

Multiple decks collapsed during the annual firefighters weekend injuring several people. (Photo/Tribune News Service)
Multiple decks collapsed during the annual firefighters weekend injuring several people. (Photo/Tribune News Service)

“We were sitting in chairs on the deck. We had just finished dinner. We were just talking," Branchville Hose Company No. 1 Chief Jonathan Frato said.

“The next thing we knew, we ended up on the lower level, the upper level on top of us,” Frato said in recalling the frantic scramble to free everyone.

More than 20 people, including three children, were injured in the multilevel deck collapse Saturday evening in Wildwood, officials said, and while most were treated and released at a local hospital, two remained hospitalized on Sunday morning.

The group included eight to 10 firefighters and family members from Branchville who, for at least five years, have been renting a second-floor condominium in the building in the 200 block of East Baker Avenue, which is about 190 miles from their Sussex County hometown.

All had gathered for the New Jersey State Firemen’s Convention and Parade in the area.

“Some people have cuts and stitches and stuff like that,” Frato said, adding that the most seriously injured victim from Branchville was a woman who sustained a fractured sternum.

Doctors put a cast on Frato’s right leg, and he was awaiting an MRI to see if it is broken.

Frato remained in Wildwood on Sunday, but a fellow firefighter at the firehouse in Branchville put him on the phone when approached by a reporter.

“Everything pancaked,” Frato said in recounting what happened.

“It was just chaos at first, until everybody got to their senses,” he added.

Frato, a 20-year member of the fire department, is the son of Branchville Mayor Anthony Frato.

“I found that house years ago. We rent it,” he said, referring to the unit on the second floor.

He added that other units in the building are rented by other fire companies.

Township officials have not said what caused the collapse.

Frato said his department is appreciative of the outpouring of support since the accident. He said firefighters from Byram, earlier Sunday, brought food to the firehouse.

He said he is at a loss to understand what could have prompted the deck collapse.

“I have no idea what happened,” he said.

Founded in 1910, the Branchville fire department serves residents of Branchville and Frankford, as well as nearby municipalities when requested.

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©2019 NJ Advance Media Group, Edison, N.J.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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