State officials and local fire companies have safely removed a bear from near Exit 8 of the New Jersey Turnpike.
"It looks like it was a nice operation coordinated between the [Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife] folks and the fire departments," said Sgt. Stephen Jones, adding that and were on the scene.
"It's been tranquilized and removed by the fire departments, brought down in a ladder truck bucket and transported to a cage brought by the Fish and Game folks," he continued. From there, he said, the 250-pound bear will probably be released in a wooded area.
The bear was first spotted near mile marker 67 on the highway around 8 a.m. this morning. The incident held up traffic in both directions on the Turnpike until about 12:30 p.m.
Hightstown Engine Co. #1 Deputy Chief Scott Jenkins was in charge of the incident for the fire companies, as Hightstown handles fire calls on the Turnpike. He said he called in the Cranbury Fire Co. because he knew their "tower," a truck with a ladder that has a "bucket" platform at the top, would be their best bet.
"I've been in fire service 19 years and this is first time I've ever come across this," Jenkins said of bear removal.
"It's kind of exciting and different, a new experience," he continued, but also an unsettling one. "The thought crossed my mind, 'I hope he doesn't wake up because my foot is right next to his mouth."
Jenkins, Cranbury Fire Co. Assistant Chief Jeremy Watkins, a representative from the Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife and an off-duty state trooper were all in the "bucket" at the top of the ladder. The trooper, who also owns a tree cutting service, first had to clear branches from the area.
The original plan was to have the firefighters catch the bear after it was hit with a tranquilizer dart and fell from the tree, according to Watkins.
“It was a little nerve-wracking at first standing under the tree and waiting for the bear to fall," he explained. "They told us there was a slight chance the bear wouldn’t be able to be totally knocked out, and it could be shaken up when it was coming down."
But when the first dart hit the bear, it moved further up the tree, Jenkins said. Up on the bucket, the Fish, Game and Wildlife man gave the bear a second injection manually, and that finally put it to sleep. Then the four men cuffed the bear and tied it—just in case it fell—before lowering it to the ground.
Watkins also said removing bears isn’t a normal part of firefighting.
“This was definitely a first for me, and my entire crew, as a matter of fact,” he said. “We've never had to do anything like that.”
But once he and the others got up on the bear’s level, he explained, “my main concern was getting the bear down safely.”
Jenkins also said the animal’s safety was a major concern.
"He was a cute animal and I'm glad we were able to save him," he said.
This article was updated at 5 p.m. to include comments from fire personnel.