Almost 900 passengers and crew were evacuated from the Staten Island Ferry’s Sandy Ground in the late afternoon of Dec. 29 after an engine room fire.

The Sandy Ground was bound from Manhattan to the St. George Terminal on Staten Island, when the fire was reported around 5:18 p.m., and a 911 emergency call came in, according to the Fire Department of New York.

“The crew had already put CO2 into the engine hold as would be the policy to do," said FDNY Deputy Assistant Chief Frank Leeb. "Our main objective was to secure the vessel and to start getting the passengers offloaded onto other boats.”

Five New York Police Department vessels headed to the scene and a radio call went out for all available ferries to respond, said Capt. Anthony Russo of the NYPD harbor unit at a press conference. Tugboats came to help keep the Sandy Ground in position and another ferry moved close to create a lee as wind and waves increased with stormy weather.

Leeb said the decision was made to move passengers onto other ferries “as that was a safer alternative than putting them on to fire or police boats. At that point we had a total of five injuries. Three people were transported to the hospital, all with minor injuries. There were approximately 868 people on the on board and then an additional 16 crew members.”

The fire was under control and John Garvey, deputy commissioner and chief of operations for the Staten Island Ferry, credited the Sandy Ground crew for putting out the fire and making the decision to anchor and call for evacuation instead of proceeding to the terminal.

Boats operated by NYC Ferry, Hornblower and New York Waterway responded to assist in the evacuation, said Leeb.

“This was not a lucky event,” Leed said in response to a reporter’s question. “This is years and a long time of preparation and training with the different stakeholders. The crew acted as the crew was supposed to act.

“So, whether this had 800, 80 or if it was at full capacity, luck didn't play into this. The collaborative effort all around is the way the system is supposed to happen when there's an engine room fire. You're supposed to notify the Coast Guard and then you're supposed to make sure that you seal it and get the people out of the way.”

Leeb said the cause of the fire is unknown pending investigation by city officials and the Coast Guard.

The 320’x70’ Sandy Ground is the third of three 4,500-passenger Ollis-class ferries built for New York by Eastern Shipbuilding Group Inc., Panama City, Fla., and entered service this year.

"This was not a lucky event," said Frank Leeb, deputy assistant commissioner of the Fire Department of New York."The crew acted as the crew was supposed to act." NYPD video image.


Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

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