It was 6:30 a.m. Monday, April 26, and HVAC Coordinator Roland Hernandez was driving on Clinton Avenue in Plainfield, headed to work, when he saw billowing black smoke about three blocks away. His first thought was that perhaps a large deli nearby had caught on fire but when he got closer, he saw flames shooting up the side of a private home.
“I made a U-turn, parked the van and ran to bang on the door,” Hernandez said. “No one answered.”
He checked the door, found it unlocked and opened it so he could bang on the interior door. That door was also unlocked and Hernandez opened it to call inside to try to wake any inhabitants. Without a response, he ran to see if he could find a hose and saw a neighbor, Antonio Garay, whom he directed to call 911. He then borrowed the neighbor’s hose and, over a 6-foot fence, doused the flames.
“Afterward, the family was still in shock but they are extremely grateful and there was little damage,” said Garay, a PSE&G customer who has lived on the block for about 20 years. “We have to look out for our neighbors and it’s nice to see just how much PSE&G cares too.”
Plainfield Service Specialist Wil Neal, who was also driving to work, saw the commotion and thought it ironic because three years earlier he was called to the same scene to shutoff gas due to a house fire. When he saw Hernandez’s van, he stopped to see if he could help.
“The fire was out by the time I got there,” Neal said. “They were very lucky that he stopped because there were about 10 people in the house, including children, and they didn’t know it was on fire.”
As the fire department arrived, both Hernandez and Neal knew they needed to move their vans out of the way so they decided to head into work. Hernandez said he likely wouldn’t have mentioned the incident but Neal said he was proud to talk about it.
“He’s a hero,” Neal said. “He did what we hope any one of us would’ve done – and that’s being a leader, doing the right thing and putting safety first.”
Hernandez, who is approaching 36 years at PSE&G, said he was compelled to stop and didn’t even consider the option of just calling 911 to report what he saw.
“When I was driving by, I didn’t see anyone and I couldn’t keep driving,” Hernandez said. “It’s in my nature. I’m a gas man, my entire career, and used to responding to emergencies. It’s in my blood.”
District Manager– Centralized ASB Michael Giardina praised Hernandez for his heroics:
“I am not surprised at all to hear that Roland turned around to go and help these folks. For as long as I’ve known Roland, he has always chosen what’s right, over what is convenient. He brings that attitude with him to work every day.”
Hernandez also garnered gratitude from senior leaders during the morning Utility call, with Gas Operations Senior Director Michael Gaffney calling it “a selfless act” and Senior Vice President & COO Kim Hanemann saying, “Having known Roland for a very long time, I am not surprised that he would jump in and do that.”
Like any everyday hero would!