Queens Courier Persons of the Year honoree: Point Breeze Volunteer Fire Department

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THE COURIER/Photo by Billy Rennison
THE COURIER/Photo by Billy Rennison

Members of the Point Breeze Volunteer Fire Department

With 2012 behind us, The Queens Courier is paying tribute to the first responders — those men and women who put their lives on the line every day, and who braved Sandy’s wrath to save, and help rebuild, lives.

They have earned our respect and admiration, and a debt of gratitude. Here is one of their stories…

By now, everyone knows the story. More than 120 houses burned to the ground in Breezy Point the night Sandy struck. It was one of the most destructive residential fires in New York City history. Houses were lost, but lives were saved. The Point Breeze Volunteer Fire Department (BPVFD), along with the Rockaway Point Volunteer Fire Department and Roxbury Volunteer Fire Department, stand as a major reason no residents died that night as members fought through 10 feet of water to be the first to arrive on the scene of the inferno.

But there is another story, a story of the houses saved from fire.

The Point Breeze department went out on a call and saw another house in flames about a half mile from the six-alarm blaze. By that time, most phones were down and no one called in the fire. The firefighters responded to the flames and extinguished them.

“Had that fire gotten loose, everything west of there would have been gone,” said Marty Ingram, fire chief of the BPVFD. “That would have been another devastation, we would have lost an equal number of homes and we could have lost the whole community.”

Twenty-five volunteers worked the night of Sandy, helping save those homes and rescue residents. And for the two months since the storm, the firefighters, who are college students, retirees, or hold down full-time jobs, have continued their work in helping the close-knit community get back on its feet.

The department has been helping in any it can: doing electrical work, plumbing, gutting houses.

“The service we provide, we try to take it a step further,” Tim Dufficy, a volunteer with the department for 10 years.

Many of the all-volunteer crew also had their homes damaged by the storm, as was the firehouse. Seven or eight members of the 50-person crew are sleeping at the firehouse, which is now staffed 24/7.

Used to helping others, the department has received an outpouring of support from throughout the country.

“We’ve had a lot of angels come in,” said Ingram. “We have become a universal fire house.”

Firefighters from Chicago, Miami and Pennsylvania descended on the fire house, helping where they can, staying overnight and heading out on calls. A truck was donated from Pittsburgh and tsunami of supplies poured in.

Edward Manley, from Florida and one of the many individual volunteers to gravitate to the area, said he plans on staying and joining the volunteer fire department.

“They’re great guys,” Manley said. “Some of the best people in the world you can meet.”

In addition to the repairs necessary at the fire house, the department is looking to add a second floor. They will be relying mostly on donations for the work. Most of the money raised for the volunteer department usually came from the Breezy community, largely displaced now, while those who have remained are focused on repairing their own damaged homes.

Those who would like to donate can head to pointbreezefiredepartment.bigcartel.com to purchase a T-shirt with the money going toward their rebuilding.

Members of the department said the outreach from the community has been tremendous, but Ingram said they were, and continue to be, just doing what they signed up for.

“Our job is to rise up from under the storm at the earliest possible time and reserve our roles as guardians of the community,” said Ingram.

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