One year ago they were in boats and swimming through floodwaters to rescue the residents of south Queens as it was battered by Sandy.
On the anniversary of the superstorm, Vetro by Russo’s on the Bay gathered the firefighter crews and recognized them for their bravery.
“Around 9:30 p.m. that night we got seven feet of water in the firehouse,” said Deputy Chief Andy Zych of the West Hamilton Beach Fire Department.
The department’s fire trucks, ambulances and equipment were ruined. So a neighbor lent the crew a fishing boat, and they got to paddling. Zych and a fellow firefighter rescued a woman, her mother and their two dogs from their flooding home and brought them to the firehouse.
“In a time like that, you don’t think. You just try and do the best you can,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Broad Channel, the local firehouse was also flooded with seven feet of water, but the crew set out into the night.
“On a regular, everyday basis, you don’t worry about anything else other than the task at hand,” said Deputy Chief Eddie Wilmarth. “But the majority of us live down here. You know as you’re grabbing people out of their houses, you know your own house is being destroyed.”
Before the storm, the Broad Channel Fire Department took a head count of everyone staying in town so they knew “who was where, and what they need,” Wilmarth said.
As the wind and rain pushed on, the floodwaters were too deep for trucks to drive through, so rescue swimmers were sent out to respond to a fire that broke out on a flood-prone street. The current was too strong for them to make it, so they swung ropes around poles to pull themselves across the intersection.
In the end, the flood put out the fire.
“We were on our own. We were the only ones operating,” Wilmarth said.
The Broad Channel department also lost all of its trucks and ambulances. But, as Wilmarth said, “the fire world is a big brotherhood,” and all of the storm-affected firehouses received equipment from all over the country.
West Hamilton Beach received a fire truck from a crew in Mississippi, who had been given that same truck after Hurricane Katrina.
Both fire crews and others in the area are back up and running, but say they’re still not back to 100 percent. Even still, they were back responding to calls just days after Sandy.
“If anything happens, we will be there,” Zych said.
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