Book recounts battle against residential fires in wake of Hurricane Sandy, including involvement of local fire fighters
Published 8:57 am Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Firefighters are described as a “band of brothers.”
When the Elizabethton Fire Department’s firefighters learned that their brothers in Breezy Point, a neighborhood in New York City, needed help in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, they answered that call.
Seven EFD members traveled 12 hours on Dec. 1, 2012, to reach the community that had been devastated; first by flooding from the hurricane, and then from a fire that spread through the neighborhood destroying 126 homes.
Their journey is chronicled in a new book, “The Battle for Breezy Point,” by Sebastian Danese, captain of the Breezy Point Volunteer Fire Department. The book tells the story of one of the largest residential fires in the history of New York City, which occurred in Breezy Point on Oct. 29, 2012. The fire occurred on the same night that Hurricane Sandy made landfall and destroyed an additional 202 homes and damaged yet another 2,219 homes.
Many of the homes destroyed belonged to first responders in New York, which led to a call for help to other first responders to help get those homes repaired.
That request for help captured EFD Captain Steve Murray’s attention.
Murray said he was looking through Facebook one night when he read a request for help for the Breezy Point Volunteer Fire Department. He got in touch with Danese and plans were put in place to go to New York.
Murray, along with EFD Sgt. David Shouse, engineers Howard McAninch and Tony Edwards, and firefighters Jerry Smith, Jeremiah Tolley and Dalton Williams, made the 12-hour drive to New York.
“I said, ‘Guys, who wants to go to New York to help?’” Murray said. “I read them the Facebook post and they said ‘OK, we’ll go.’ I told them I was serious and they said they wanted to leave that Sunday.”
After working out the details with Danese, Murray and the other EFD members started working to gather donations to help with the cost of the trip. Murray said they left with $1,800 donated by local businesses and a 12-passenger van supplied by Enterprise Rent-a-Car for their trip.
Murray noted that not all of the money was spent, and what was left over was put in a fund the EFD could use if there was ever another instance to help fellow first responders.
“We hope that we won’t have to do it again, but if we do, then it is there when we need it,” he said.
The EFD firefighters stayed in Breezy Point for one week. During that time, they did what was called “pump and gut.” Murray said that even though it had been more than a month since the fire and hurricane, many homes were still flooded and power was still off to the neighborhood.
The volunteers worked to pump the floodwater from the homes and then gutted the structures from around the four-foot height mark to the floor.
On their first day, the group was assigned to the Breezy Point Medical Center. They had the building “gutted” by noon and were ready for another assignment.
They also helped clear fallen trees and helped in individual homes that were damaged.
While there, the group visited New York City on their first night. One of the highlights of the trip was visiting the 9-11 memorial.
“It was truly sacred ground,” Murray said. “Out of all the noise in New York City, it was quiet. There was no rush.”
While the firefighters quickly turned their idea of helping heal a faraway community into action, and though their time there was limited, the impact has proved long-lasting.
In Breezy Point for just a week, Murray said the firefighters had made “friends for life,” and that they remain in touch with people they had met and worked with on their trip.
In fact, there are plans to repay their hosts for their glimpse of the Big Apple with a look at the Big Orange: Some of New York firefighters plan to visit Elizabethton and attend a University of Tennessee football game.