Local Firefighters Head West, Take Shifts in Hard-Hit Areas

Fire crews head to Long Beach, Island Park, Lido Beach.

When Hurricane Sandy touched down on the coast of Long Island over a month ago, firefighters on the south shore answered the call as if Sandy were any other storm: evacuating residents before the storm, saving those who needed saving during it, and putting out fires where fires needed to be put out.

At the end of their shifts, though, the firefighters still had to go home after the monster storm just like anyone else, and just like many others, firefighters in the Long Beach area have been spending the past month picking up pieces of the damage left behind.

So local fire crews are sending some lifelines of their own to the firefighters out west. 

Most of Suffolk County's 109 fire departments have helped out their brethren in Long Beach, Island Park, and Lido Beach over the past month, sending firefighters in 24-hour shifts to spell fire departments that felt the damage as much as everyone else in the hard-hit area.

Suffolk isn't alone, as a fire crew from as far away as Georgia sent up a fire truck to Island Park this week, and mutual aid from as far away as Binghampton has made the trip to the south shore.

"Unlike Suffolk County, where we had damage but didn't lose trucks or fire houses, these guys actually lost houses and equipment," said Greg James, chief fire coordinator with Suffolk County Fire Rescue Emergency Services. "And then of course, a lot of firemen had their own homes destroyed."

Long Beach Fire Department Commissioner Scott Kremins said that even a month after, though the number improves every day, he estimated the department is still only at about 50 percent service between the damaged equipment and trucks still being repaired, and firefighters displaced from their homes living elsewhere temporarily.

"As things progress, things are getting better," he said. Kremins added that the outreach has been "very humbling," using one example of a former firefighter in the department who had moved to Indianapolis, but came back to Long Beach and lived at the fire house for two weeks helping out after the storm.

"There are so many stories like that. People helping out, organizations, you name it," he said. "It's just amazing."

Suffolk County FRES have been coordinating with all Suffolk departments making the trip, ensuring that different parts of the county were helping out on different days. This way, neighboring districts of those up in Nassau could be on call if an extra truck or engine was needed in the case of an emergency.

James said about 15 firefighters from Suffolk have been sent each day to lend a hand.

Southold Fire Department Chief Bill Byrnes said that he and an eight-person crew went to Island Park this past Friday for a 24-hour shift, which was uneventful but Byrnes said he sees that as a good thing.

“They’re starting to power up houses again, and when houses burn down, that’s just insult to tragedy,” he said. “The clean up is at the point where most of the sheet rock is ripped out of houses and they’re just waiting for everything to dry out so they can put things back together again.”

Byrnes said that members of the Greenport Fire Department relieved his crew this past Saturday morning and that fire crews from Mattituck, East Marion and Orient have also been helping out in Island Park while Cutchogue Fire Department is volunteering in Long Beach.

The chief said that he expects that the agreement for stand-by duty with Suffolk County will be extended past the Dec. 9 cutoff date and he’ll be heading west again soon.

“They have a have ways to go over there,” he said.

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