For this week’s press release I would like to take the time to let the citizen of Brigantine know that their Fire Department achieved what can be declared its finest hour.
It has now been two weeks since Superstorm Sandy hit the shores of our island. We hope that everyone is getting their life back to normal. In the wake of such events there are always stories to be told. I feel it is time to let the citizens know some of the details of the efforts and heroics achieved by members of the Fire Department and Emergency Medical Services.
In the eight-day period from Sunday, Oct. 28 to Sunday, Nov. 4, the department responded to more than 239 alarms. To use a lighthearted description: water rescue in the morning, fires in the evening, EMS all day long.
The work began with evacuating the special needs victims to offshore shelters on Sunday. Needless to say, more citizens should have listened to the warnings and evacuated that day. With the evacuations completed, preparation began for the storm.
With the rise of the first tide, people realized that they had made a serious error in judgment and began calling for assistance; some calls were frantic pleas for help. In the height of the storm, Fire Department and EMS personnel began evacuating the golf course area of the island using boats borrowed from the Brigantine Rowing Club.
The heroic efforts of the firefighter-EMTs continued until 3:20 p.m. Monday. Some of these rescues were of citizens with special needs, and these rescues were complicated by the need to keep life support equipment working while rescuing the person through deep water, all while power lines and debris were falling around them and winds were reaching speeds of greater than 60 miles an hour.
The victims were rescued from the flood waters and placed in trucks driven by public works employees. They were then taken to the shelter of last resort at the Community Center.
There were 46 water rescues recorded with 107 victims rescued. The actual numbers are estimated to be much higher, since the rescues began happening at such a frantic pace that the documentation could no longer keep pace with the work being accomplished. Conditions deteriorated to the point that it was no longer safe to continue operations in the storm. At 3:20 p.m. Monday a “No go” order was issued by the Chief and all personnel were ordered back to the station. It took 40 minutes to complete operations and account for our personnel.
Monday night was not any easier for the fire department. With the flood water rising to the front door of the fire station and winds speeds still high, the department received a call for a house fire. The flames of the fire could be seen from the fire station almost a mile away. Engine 1 and Engine 2 responded to the fire on Lafayette Boulevard with full complement of firefighter-EMTs. Only Engine 1 made it through the flood waters, finding a car and the house fully engulfed in flames. Engine 2 was swamped by flood water and was disabled a block from the fire; firefighters had to leave the apparatus behind and arrive on foot to engage in operations.
The water was so deep that the firefighters could not find the submerged fire hydrants for a water supply. As one witness later described the scene, “It was like watching a Vietnam movie where the soldiers were chest-deep in water with their guns over their head, only they were holding the fire hoses.”
In spite of these challenges, the firefighters managed to extinguish the fires and prevent the fire from spreading to other buildings.
During this house fire, there was an alarm for a building collapsed with people inside, on the 200 block of 33rd Street. Truck 1 responded to the call, and upon arrival the crew was hampered by deep water. The crew boarded a truck driven by public works personnel, arrived on the scene and assessed the situation. No extrication was required. The occupants were evacuated to the Community Center for shelter.
The saga continued in the early morning hours of Tuesday, Oct. 30. An alarm for another house fire was received. The flood water had receded, and fire apparatus were able to make a quick response. The first arriving crew found a working car fire combined with an adjacent house fire. The crew quickly extinguished the fire, overhauled to check for extension and returned to service to respond to additional calls.
Into the mix are the 66 EMS alarms which included the care and unsuccessful resuscitation of a flood victim who died from hypothermia. There were multiple EMS alarms for carbon monoxide poisoning from gas-powered generators, and the routine calls for service which the Fire Department responds to on a regular basis.
Beginning in this time period (and continuing into the present), the department assisted FEMA teams with helping the total population of the island; responded to numerous calls for malfunctioning utilities including gas, electric, and structural problems; assisted with the staffing of the shelter at the community center; assisted with the return of evacuees to the island; provided mutual aid to other communities in need; facilitated communication between evacuees and relatives in other communities; and worked with Secret Service Explosive Ordnance Division teams during a presidential visit. The Fire Prevention Bureau also teamed with the State Department of Community Affairs and the Brigantine Building Department to facilitate the quick response to accomplish inspections of damaged homes on the island.
As the leader of the Fire Department, I can report to the citizens of Brigantine that during this storm, your firefighter-EMTs lived up to the highest traditions and expectations of the fire and emergency service.
I would like conclude with one very simple thought: Firefighters are there when you need them.