While Fort Lee, N.J. was choked with gridlock during four days in September, first responders in the town were still forced to deal with the same emergencies they face everyday: car crashes, medical problems and the like.
Now, records obtained by TPM give a clearer look at just what the police in the town had to respond to during the traffic jam, which has since been blamed on a political vendetta by Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) administration.
During the hours of heaviest morning traffic on the days in question, police responded to at least nine traffic collisions, two of which were serious enough that victims had to be taken to a local hospital.
Police assistance was also needed for at least two other medical emergencies. On Sept. 9, there was a call about an “injured/sick person.” On Sept. 11, there was a call indicating police aided an ambulance that responded to an emergency. Information about the nature of the emergencies were blacked out from the police reports about them.
The details come days after the Bergen Record newspaper reported that emergency medical personnel were delayed at getting to at least four incidents during the first two days of snarled traffic — Sept. 9 and Sept. 10.
The newspaper based its report on a letter that Paul Favia, the leader of the local volunteer ambulance corps, wrote to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich on Sept. 10.
TPM obtained the numbers of police calls through a series of public records requests last month. The requests asked for all calls police responded to between 7 a.m. and noon on Sept. 9 through Sept. 13.
The traffic jam came when Christie appointees with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey ordered some the lanes on the George Washington Bridge to be closed. Democrats in New Jersey have alleged that the lanes were closed as retaliation against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, who declined to endorse Christie’s re-election bid.
It’s unclear whether the incidents cited by Favia overlap with the incidents outlined in the police reports. It’s also unclear whether police were delayed responding to the calls because of the traffic.
What is clear is that emergency response has been a serious concern of local officials since the traffic jam took place.
Fort Lee Police Chief Keith Bendul told the Bergen Record on Sept. 13 that the four days of snarled traffic had been cause for alarm.
“On Monday while all this was going on, we had to contend with a missing 4-year-old, a cardiac arrest requiring an ambulance and a car running up against a building,” Bendul said. “What would happen if there was a very serious accident?”
Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye, who was appointed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and who ordered that the lanes on the bridge be re-opened early in the morning of Sept. 13, later expressed hope that the closures had not impacted emergency response.
In a letter obtained by the Wall Street Journal, Foye wrote to Port Authority leadership: “I pray that no life has been lost or trip of a hospital- or hospice-bound patient delayed.”
Neither Bendul nor officials with the volunteer ambulance corps responded to TPM’s requests for comment.