Newark Fire Department Captain Oswald Robetto testified during an investigative hearing held by the US Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board probing a ship-board fire on 5 July 2023.
The fire broke out on the Italian-owned Grande Costa D'Avorio while it was in Port Newark, one of the nation's busiest seaports. Two firefighters died while fighting the fire, according to The Associated Press.
Fire Captains Augusto Acabou and Wayne Brooks Jr were identified as the firefighters who died.
On the night of the fire, Capt Robetto and Acabou, as well as a third firefighter, boarded the smoke-obscured, 12-level ship to fight the blaze. The men followed a hose line through the dark and eventually reached Brooks, who was manning its nozzle. He was spraying water onto the ceiling when the other firefighters arrived.
Eventually, the firefighters were ordered to retreat and follow the hose line back to their starting point on the ship's deck.
Capt Robetto told Acabou and Brooks that they needed to leave, and the men began following the hose out, according to his testimony.
He said during their retreat Brooks's facemask began vibrating, which is a sign that his air supply was running low. Capt Robetto said he directed Brooks to take the lead and held onto the firefighter's jacket to ensure they did not become separated.
The men reached a kink in the hose in an especially low-visibility space on the ship and as the other firefighters continued to follow the hose, Capt Robetto said he "hesitated" and began inspecting the kink.
"I knelt down to look at the kink," he said. "I just kept saying to myself, 'This is impossible. How did this happen?"'
He then became disoriented in the smoke and darkness and reached for the wall. Firefighters are trained to follow walls when they become disoriented in low-visibility situations. At the same time, his mask began vibrating, indicating he was also running out of air.
Capt Robetto said he then radioed for help.
"Mayday, mayday, mayday,” he recalled yelling into his radio. "Engine 16, I'm separated from the line, separated from the others. I'm running low on air."
He eventually found a door and managed to get to safety. When he arrived he expected to see Acabou and Brooks, but they never arrived.
"I was pretty much in shock at what had just happened," he told the panel.
Acabou was eventually found wedged between a pair of vehicles. Firefighters spent more than an hour using the "jaws of life" to pry him out. Brooks was found lying in a different spot on the same deck.
Both were declared dead at a Newark hospital after they were removed from the ship.