The storm may have ended, but the loss and destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy along the East Coast still remain. While Ulster dodged a major bullet with Sandy circumventing the county, she packed a tragic punch for areas of New York just south of us that were and continue to be devastated by the hurricane, with many Ulster County residents have family and friends who were impacted.
There are many ongoing relief efforts in the region aimed at helping Hurricane Sandy victims rebuild their lives piece by piece, brick by brick. When tragedy strikes, one can often see the best of human nature, reaching out with a helping hand. Here are just a few short clips of local efforts to help our southern New York neighbors.
It is no surprise to anyone who knows some of our local volunteer firefighters that they didn’t hesitate when asked to go down to East Rockaway and lend their professional services to one of several beachside residential areas that was wiped out by Sandy’s rage.
According to Village of New Paltz Fire Department (NPFD) chief Kevin Maguire, he received a call from Ulster County’s Mutual Aid asking if some New Paltz firefighters could take a 72-hour shift in East Rockaway. “I was completely supportive of it, and ran it by mayor Jason West, who also was 100 percent in support, and then I put it out to our membership.”
A group of eight volunteer firefighters made up of NPFD and Modena firefighters headed to East Rockaway approximately a week-and-a-half ago to lend a hand to their fellow firefighters and East Rockaway residents. NPFD first assistant chief Tony Yenzer was joined by lieutenant Dylan Babcock, Scott Schulte, Rob Guidi and former NPFD chief David Weeks.
“We joined forces with some great guys from Modena: assistant chief Sean Egan and Tom Zuppan,” said Yenzer, who explained that the request worked “the same way any mutual aid call works. If we received a mutual aid call to help battle a fire in Highland, our membership would respond as much as they could. This is mutual aid, but on a larger level.”
What they saw? “Total devastation! There were houses burnt to the ground; houses wiped off their foundations; others that were gutted, flooded and no electricity for most,” said the assistant chief. He noted that personal belongings were piled up in the streets; boats had been flung into front yards: “It was…there are no words.”
Even the assistant chief of the East Rockaway Fire Department — who, Yenzer reported, was so grateful for their assistance — had five feet of water in his first floor. “The surf was so fast and the water came in so quick that there was nothing they could do,” he said, but pointed out that the assistant chief and many of the East Rockaway firefighters had to sleep with their families at the stationhouse because their homes were wiped out. “They’re firefighters,” asserted Yenzer. “They put others before themselves. They were out fighting fires and rescuing people while their own homes were being flooded.”
The New Paltz and Modena firefighters helped to cover district fire calls in Rockaway, unload all of the donations of water, clothes and food at the stationhouse and then redistribute them to families in need, who way exceeded what was provided.
“Our guys gave 100 percent; no one complained. We became close with the East Rockaway Fire Department, and were fortunate to be able to help. We never stopped moving…how could we? If anyone saw the devastation there, it brought tears to our eyes.”