by Barrett Seaman
A fire broke out onboard a recreational vehicle as it crossed the Mario Cuomo Bridge just before 3:30 p.m. Monday afternoon, heading west. The blaze and black smoke were visible for miles as rush hour traffic built up and eventually stopped dead. Firefighters from both sides of the Hudson rushed to the scene.
The RV, which had a Honda Pilot in tow, had a mechanical problem and pulled off the northbound span into a lane set aside as a work area. The fire, whose cause remains unknown, broke out while the driver worked to resolve the mechanical problem. Loaded with flammable plastics and cloth, the RV ignited quickly and was completely destroyed. Fortunately, there were no injuries.
Traffic ground to a halt, however, creating a challenge for fire trucks from both Tarrytown and Rockland. While the Rockland-based trucks were able to use the entire four lanes, coming against the grain of traffic that had been stopped by the fire, the Tarrytown crews had to use the work lane to access the blaze.
The crossover that connects the north and south spans, which was intended to facilitate access for just such occasions, was of little use, according to Tarrytown Fire Chief Pat Derivan. “We were led to believe that it was accessible,” he said, but when they asked if they could access the fire via the crossover, they were told that only someone from the Thruway Authority could open it and that that would have taken at least half an hour to do so. Asked if this was an issue that needed to be fixed, Chief Derivan said, “We’re definitely going to bring it to the table” in future discussions with the bridge authorities.
Under normal circumstances, with no construction-caused lane closures, emergency vehicles would have been able to reach the blaze using the dedicated emergency lane, making accessibility of the crossover moot.
The chief saw the incident, which finally ended when traffic began to resume after 7:30 p.m., as a useful training exercise for emergency response teams who have yet to face a major incident on the new bridge. But it was a sobering example of just how backed up traffic can get—not only on the bridge but on all the roads, both east and west, that feed it. Traffic on Broadway as far north as Sleepy Hollow did not fully clear until after dark.