In what fire officials described as an act of bravery, four roofers rescued a co-worker who had fallen through a factory roof in Clifton and dropped 40 feet into a tank of acid.
Martin Davis, 44, of Avenel, an ironworker and father of three, was working on the roof of Swepco Tube LLC, a metal tube manufacturing plant, when he fell into the tank of nitric acid around 8:40 a.m. Monday.
Davis was in critical condition with a broken rib, punctured lung and burns on his legs and side
, his brother John Davis said in an interview Monday.
Clifton Fire Chief Vincent Colavitti Jr. initially said that one of the co-workers, Rob Nuckols, 51, of Frenchtown, had jumped into the vat and was aided by three other roofers in pulling out the victim.
Nuckols declined to comment Monday night, but a relative, who asked that her name not be used, said he did not jump into the vat but was among four workers who pulled Davis to safety.
Nuckols told firefighters after the ordeal: “I had to get him out of there.”
The tank was filled with a 40 percent to 70 percent solution of nitric acid used in cleaning metal tubing. Davis was fully submerged in the solution
The three other roofers were identified as Rob Fulton, 24; Joe Dabkowski, 45; and William Walker, who is in his 20s. Authorities did not have the rescuers’ hometowns. The men were working for Gar Con Enterprises, based in Flemington. It was the first day of the roof replacement job at Swepco, Colavitti said.
“It takes a lot of courage” Colavitti said of the rescuers’ actions.
When he was rescued, Davis was red and seemed to be in shock. “He was incoherent,” Colavitti said.
The fire department arrived about five minutes later and cut off Davis’ clothes and sprayed him down with water to stop the acid from burning through his skin, Colavitti said. Nuckols had rinsed himself off, Colavitti said.
“They have him on a breathing apparatus and he’s in critical condition,” John Davis said. “His condition is not so good. But he’s a young guy. He’ll pull through.”
Nuckols, who suffered burns on his legs and abdomen, was taken to St. Mary’s Hospital in Passaic where he was treated and released Monday. One other roofer was taken to St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson, and the other two were taken to St. Mary’s Hospital with irritation on their hands and arms.
Two of the roofers returned to Swepco hours later, gathered personal items and left. One was in his socks and neither had any apparent injuries or bandages.
Martin Davis wasn’t able to communicate because of the breathing apparatus, his brother said, adding that their mother and stepfather were at his side. He said Martin is healthy and strong.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration was on the scene Monday investigating the accident. Spokeswoman Leni Fortson said she could only say that the agency is investigating and looking into both companies. OSHA does not comment on open investigations, she said.
The chief said over the years acid steam and mist had eaten away at the corrugated metal roof above the tank, so the roof needed to be replaced. The roof replacement work has been shut down, but the factory remained open Monday.