Tag Archives: West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department

Mississippi fire department recognized for donating Katrina fire truck to West Hamilton Beach

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

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When the West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department (WHBVFD) was seemingly drowning in Sandy’s storm waters, hurricane veterans came to the rescue.

A Mississippi volunteer fire department wanted to “pay it forward” and help out the hurting beach community, just the way they were helped after Hurricane Katrina swept through their town in 2005.

The southern men were recognized at WHBVFD’s annual dinner Thursday.

Katrina took five trucks from the Gulf Park Estates Volunteer Fire Department crew. They additionally sustained 11 feet of floodwater in two fire stations along with countless damages.

During their recovery, a Virginia department donated a fire truck to help get the group back on its feet. When news of Sandy made its way down south, the Mississippi team wanted to lend a hand.

“We were in the same situation they were,” said David Peto, chief of the Gulf Park Estates Volunteer Fire Department. “We wanted to pay it forward and do the same thing someone did to us.”

Peto searched for ways to help after the superstorm ravaged West Hamilton Beach and stumbled upon a volunteer website. He listed the department’s name and was contacted within a few days.

“It just seemed like the right thing to do,” he said.

After Katrina, the Gulf Park Estates crew received donations from “all across the country,” coming in from as far as the West Coast. When Sandy hit, they knew they had to step up, and passed along the traveling truck.

“It’s good to know you’re able to help another community going through the same thing you went through,” Peto said.

The Larimer Volunteer Fire Department in Pennsylvania also donated a fire truck to West Hamilton Beach, and the local group additionally received two new ambulances.

“We have rebuilt, and we are 100 percent whole,” said Mitch Udawitch, a WHBVFD official.



West Hamilton Beach fire crew gets new ambulances to replace ones lost during Sandy

| mhayes@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Maggie Hayes

Over a year after Sandy, two shiny new ambulances pulled up to the West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department to replace the ones the storm took away.

“Things like this bring back a positive morale,” said State Senator Joseph Addabbo, who got a ride in one of the new rigs after they were delivered on Thursday.

“Anything we can do to get back to the point of how we were before Sandy, or better than we were before Sandy,” he said.

Before the superstorm, the crew moved one ambulance from the beach town, which is below sea level, to “higher ground” at the Rockwood Park Jewish Center on 84th Street. It survived, but sustained some damage. The other truck was unsalvageable.

After the floods ravaged West Hamilton Beach, the roughly 45-man department received ambulance donations from Long Island and has since been operating status-quo with two ambulances.

But now, more safety and security has been delivered with the brand new rigs, upping West Hamilton Beach’s ambulance count to four.

“This will be a help to the community like everything else,” said Jonah Cohen, the department’s fire chief.

Now, the emergency crew can work without worrying about a vehicle breaking down, Cohen said.

“They’re first responders who are in a unique, isolated area,” Addabbo said. “When there’s any kind of emergency, severe storm, everyone looks to them. I’m speechless by the work they do here.”

The fire department needs two ambulances to operate efficiently. They will primarily use the new vehicles, keep one for back-up and donate the last to another volunteer fire department.

“To get two rigs that could help in a life-endangering situation, this is a life-changer,” Addabbo said.



Sandy’s heroes celebrate 85 years of service

| tcullen@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Terence M. Cullen

While the night marked 85 years of serving its community, the West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department dedicated its annual dinner/dance to all of those who pitched in during Sandy — particularly the men and women who were on duty that night.

Volunteers, friends, family and local leaders celebrated another year of community service on Thursday, January 31 at Russo’s on the Bay. State Senator Joseph Addabbo and Councilmember Eric Ulrich were special honorees, along with former Assemblymember Audrey Pfeffer and former State Senator Serphin Maltese. “Our own firehouse took more than five feet of water, destroying every piece of apparatus we own, and caused extensive damage to the building and equipment,” said treasurer and former chief Mitch Udewitch. “Even during our nightmare, we continued to serve our community, as the new Howard Beach Civic Association began using the department building as a food pantry, a soup kitchen [and a] clothing drop off for area residents. As the devastation became clear, members of the community began stepping forward and helping.”

Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder, the night’s presiding officer, swore in new and returning members of the fire department, including Chief Jonah Cohen, who has served a number of terms in the position.

The Howard Beach Kiwanis Club gave a $1,000 contribution to the firehouse. Several donations have been made to the department in the months after the storm. A slew of fire companies from around the country gave equipment, fire trucks and ambulances to the West Hamilton Beach department after its entire arsenal was damaged by flood waters. In December, Duane Reade/Walgreens donated $25,000, which Cohen said would probably go toward a new ambulance.



Agencies give Sandy testimony before City Council

| tcullen@queenscourier.com

Nearly three months after the storm devastated the tri-state area, and with residents still trying to recover, the City Council has begun investigating how various agencies handled Sandy.

Testimony has been given by representatives of the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), the New York City Housing Authority, Con Edison and the Long Island Power Authority, among other agencies.

Councilmember Eric Ulrich, when addressing OEM, inquired why the West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department had been denied a request for a rescue boat, despite the anticipated flooding in the hamlet. Ulrich also asked why OEM had not looked at the Breezy Point Cooperative’s evacuation plan, or had better communication with the several volunteer fire departments of southern Queens.

OEM Commissioner Joseph Bruno said commissioners had been on the ground working with volunteer fire departments on plans during the lead up to the storm and had always maintained communications between the volunteers and the FDNY. It was not the office’s policy to approve of other entities’ evacuation plans, he said, but OEM could give input for both cooperatives and volunteer fire departments in the future, he said.

Ulrich suggested to Bruno that once recovery is completely over, and some stability is back in the area, OEM officials begin to work with these waterside communities to better prepare for future storms.

“I think in the next year it might be a good time, when everything settles and the rebuilding starts and life gets somewhat back to normal, that OEM try to engage these communities and these fire departments.”




Queens Courier Persons of the Year honoree: West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department

| tcullen@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Terence M. Cullen

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…

The West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department station house is on a strip of land that isn’t far from the water.

So when the storm surge from Sandy started to rise up in the hamlet on Jamaica Bay, it brought seven feet of water into the firehouse where eight volunteers — five firefighters and three EMTs — were on duty.

The residents of Hamilton Beach, which is in Zone A, had evacuated for the most part, according to Jonah Cohen, the chief. But those who stayed needed to be rescued. With their trucks damaged by the flooding and no way to walk through, the fire department had to improvise to save lives.

“We used a boat that was donated to us last year [for Hurricane Irene],” Cohen said. The boat rescued two people who remained at the firestation until the waters receded.

Though that was the sole mission that October night, according to Cohen, the fire department waited for the water to recede around 11 p.m. The next day, they assessed the damage: Three fire trucks, a chief’s car, two personal cars and one ambulance were damaged by Sandy. Lines on the windshields of the fire trucks marked how high the water rose.

Five members of the fire department live in the neighborhood and had to cope with the storm on two fronts. Once they were off-call or done assessing the damage, Cohen said they were relieved by others to focus on the destruction done to their own homes.

“Anybody who lives in the area had damage to their homes,” he said. “They dealt with it that night, and then when they found out what damage was done to their own homes, they basically needed to take care of business.”

Without any life-saving equipment, the West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department did what it could as first responders. They took in and distributed cleaning supplies, clothing and food.

“The day after, and for over a month, that’s what we were doing was handing out different products for the people who were here that were trying to clean up their homes and of course to feed them,” said Cohen.

Reconstruction is well underway. To the east of the firehouse, the rail tracks of the A line are being repaired. To the west, just down Davenport Court Road, there’s the wooden frame of a house that will soon be built.

The firehouse parking lot, underwater during Sandy, is once again filled with fire trucks and ambulances. While some bear the old “West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department” emblem, others, bear such names as “Berlin” from Pennsylvania, a testament to the fact that fire departments across the country stepped in to donate equipment.

In one corner, there is a colossal truck with both “FDNY” logos and emblems bearing the shape of Louisiana. Cohen, pointing out how remarkable the truck is in size and condition, explained it had gone back and forth between the two states after Hurricane Katrina and was donated to help after Sandy.

Today, calls are back to normal at the fire department, with some days busy and others quiet.

“The emergency calls are still normal,” he said. “Some days we have a lot; some days are very light. It’s like everything else.”

More Queens Courier Persons of the Year:

Sandy first responders honored as Queens Courier Persons of the Year

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Persons of the Year

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 are some of their stories…

Dylan Smith

Dylan Smith saved the lives of six people during Sandy using just his surfboard, but tragically lost his own life just months later while on the water. On the night of Monday, October 29, Smith, 23, heroically paddled through the floodwaters into his neighbors’ homes in Belle Harbor, and, using a homemade rope bridge along with his surfboard, moved people to safety. Read more

Point Breeze Volunteer Fire Department

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. Read more

Roxbury Volunteer Fire Department

It began as a glow to the west, a speck of twinkling amber light in the darkness. From the loft above the Roxbury Volunteer Fire Department’s station, the crew watched as the flicker became a blaze, carrying a once charming beachfront neighborhood into the night sky in embers and smoke. “Oh my God,” they said. “Breezy’s burning.” Read more

West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department

The West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department station house is on a strip of land that isn’t far from the water. So when the storm surge from Sandy started to rise up in the hamlet on Jamaica Bay, it brought seven feet of water into the firehouse where eight volunteers — five firefighters and three EMTs — were on duty. Read more

Drugstore chain steps up for volunteers

| tcullen@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Terence M. Cullen

While Sandy flooded Hamilton Beach and endangered the lives of many residents trapped in their homes, the area’s volunteer fire department was out braving the elements. Now they’re getting some help back.

Duane Reade/Walgreens came to the West Hamilton Beach Volunteer Fire Department on Thursday, December 20 to donate $25,000 so the company can replace some of the life-saving equipment that was ruined by the storm.

“We understand the value of volunteer fire departments and what they bring,” said Greg Calvano, Duane Reade/Walgreens’ senior director of store operations. “And when we heard they lost all their equipment, and a lot of their personal stuff in the firehouse, it’s time that communities join together.”

State Senator Joseph Addabbo commended the fire department, with much of the staff living nearby, for putting the lives and the safety of others first – while their own homes were suffering damage.

“Moments after Sandy came along and hit this area of Hamilton Beach, which is Zone A,” Addabbo said, “moments after that storm hit, volunteers went throughout this area rescuing people. And these are volunteers that put their personal issues with Sandy aside to deal with the issues others had.”

The first step will be to get a new ambulance for the fire department. After the trucks were damaged, firehouses from places such as Berlin, Pennsylvania, donated equipment.

“It’s nice to have the [support of] people in the community,” said Fire Chief Jonah Cohen. “It’s also nice that people volunteer their time. It’s not only us, but there have been a lot of people in the community that have volunteered to help others. And that’s an important thing to understand.”