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Wayne cop begins to walk after car crushed by tree during Sandy

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

While our police friendly business directory is focused on "reliable services for those we rely upon™" , we are are also focused on spreading great news about those we rely upon. Learn more about Officer Bob Franco of the Wayne Township Police Department and his amazing journey to recovery. Officer Franco was in his patrol car when a tree fell on top of the car during Hurricane Sandy. We at TinStop wish for a speedy recovery for Officer Franco!




WAYNE — It's going to be some time before Wayne Township Police Officer Bob Franco is back up to full speed. But he's walking, a little. And that's a start.

Franco, an Oak Ridge resident, was in a police car crushed by a large tree as superstorm Sandy hit New Jersey with its worst. He suffered severe spinal injuries and was in surgery for more than six hours at St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center in Paterson, according to a Facebook page created to support his recovery.

"I don't want to speak for him or his doctors, but from our perspective, it seemed very grave," said Capt. Mark McGrath, a longtime friend of Franco's who was among those who responded to the scene where his car had been crushed. "That surgery was nearly seven hours long. Everyone had in their mind the worst-case scenario. Nobody knew what the result was going to be."

But every day, Franco has made improvement, his friend said. He's begun to regain slight movement in his arms, though they've lagged behind his legs.

"Obviously, he still has a long way to go," McGrath said.

It was on the second day after the crash that fellow police got some sense Franco was on the road to recovery, McGrath said.

"It seemed like his spirits lifted. He was able to communicate better, and was speaking more positively," McGrath said. "He was joking around. It was like, 'OK, there's Bob. Bob is back.'"

Franco, 42, had been responding to a ruptured gas line at around 9:40 p.m. Oct. 29 on Lake Drive West, and had pulled his car alongside that of Assistant Fire Company Chief John Neukum. Then, the large tree came down on both of their vehicles.

Neukem wasn't as badly hurt, and was able to radio for help, McGrath said. When the captain first arrived on the scene, he knew an officer was trapped in the car, but he didn't immediately know who.

"(The assistant chief) said he hadn't heard from the officer," McGrath said. "At that point, I went in right away. He was conscious, but he was having trouble breathing. His bulletproof vest was pushing up into his throat. But he was able to speak to me in a very low voice."

Ultimately, several police, multiple first aid squads, and paramedics from the hospital responded to the scene. They kept working as the storm's fierce winds blew around them.

"It took almost a full hour," McGrath said. "The tree and the branches fully consumed both cars. There were live wires that came down with the tree. It was very right in between the two cars. ... There were trees coming down all over the place, on houses, on wires. There were several transformer fires. Just because this tree came down, didn't mean the other trees were done falling."

McGrath said responders knew quickly Franco was in danger of a serious neck or spine injury. The crushed roof of his patrol car pinned his head to his shoulder. As McGrath made his way into the car, Franco said he'd lost feelings in his arms and legs. It wasn't until later Franco and his fellow officers would learn he'd suffered two fractured vertebrae.

During the response, McGrath said, he didn't stop much to think about the fact that it was his friend underneath the mass of metal. It was more important to focus on the job at hand, he said.

"Bob didn't need an old friend to get emotional there," McGrath said.

But that old-friend was likely a life-saver, said Detective Chris Corsiglia, the state delegate for Wayne PBA Local 136. Only McGrath and firefighters Tim Maher and  Joe Olaya could fit in between Franco's vehicle and Neukum's.

"What these guys did was above and beyond what anybody could be expected to," Corsiglia said. "They were underneath power miles, in the middle of the storm, with everything going on around them, and they basically got him out of a very tight, dangerous area. They had maybe a foot and a half to work with, with the trees there, and they went and cut him out of the car."

Corsiglia said he's nominating the first-responders "for the very highest award the PBA can offer."

In the time since the tree crashed down, the community has rallied around Franco, McGrath and Corsiglia said.
After the New York City Marathon was cancelled, dozens of people ran through the township to help raise funds for Franco's family. The Fairway Market in Woodland Park donated a portion of its proceeds Thursday to help raise money as well. And the PBA has received several donations through a link on its website.

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