Firefighters from Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake got a firsthand look at some of the devastation Hurricane Sandy wrought on Long Island, where they were deployed this week to help those impacted by the storm.
Jim Stinson and Shawn White of the Saranac Lake Volunteer Fire Department, and Royce Cole and Nick Rolley of the Tupper Lake Volunteer Fire Department returned home Friday night after working in Freeport, Long Island. They were filling in for Engine Company 214, many of whose members' homes were either damaged or destroyed by the hurricane. Freeport, a village with a population of about 43,000 people, is in the southwestern part of Nassau County, on the south shore of Long Island.
"The four of us are working with one of their officers, a driver and one or two of their members, and we're responding as an engine company," Stinson told the Enterprise Friday morning by phone from Freeport. "The first morning we were here, we went in a beach neighborhood and went door to door with fliers, and did health and welfare checks. It was the first time they had seen emergency-services people."
Saranac Lake firefighters Shawn White, left, and Jim Stinson stand in front of a boat that Hurricane Sandy washed into a street in Freeport, Long Island.
(Photo — Jim Stinson)
Stinson said they visited many of the same neighborhoods again on Thursday, passing out information to homeowners about what to do when their electrical service is restored. Large sections of Freeport, particularly those closer to the ocean, were still without power as of Friday morning, four days after the storm hit.
"All the buildings in the neighborhoods, their basements are completely flooded," Stinson said. "Their panel boxes are overwhelmed. The water was higher than their panel boxes. They've got quite an electrical mess here."
"It's pretty devastating," Cole said Friday morning. "We've seen some pretty crazy stuff. Of course, there's a lot worse in other places, but we've seen massive boats washed up in the streets by the ocean, and massive flooding. Outside, things may look fine, but when you go inside, every home is pretty much destroyed with water. It's been an eye-opening experience; that's for sure."
Despite the flooding and the lack of power, the local firefighters said the people they talked to in Freeport were resilient and thankful for the help.
"Some are frustrated that things aren't happening as quick as they think they should be," White said, "but they're glad we're here, and we're letting them know we're doing the best we can. They're really impressed that people from up north would come down and give them a helping hand."
"I got a hug on the street yesterday, and people are saying thank you," Stinson said. "It's nice."
The four local firefighters were part of a group of 12 from across Franklin County who were dispatched to Nassau County on Tuesday. The others were from Malone, Constable, Bangor and Hogansburg.
While the Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake crews were able to spend the night in bunk beds in the Engine Company 214's firehouse, some of the other crews from Franklin County apparently weren't so lucky.
"They've been pumping out basements, from what I've heard, and sleeping in their trucks," White said.
"They're in (Long) Island City (in western Queens), and it's a much harder-hit area than we're in," Cole said.
The six two-person teams from the county were on a 72-hour deployment that ended Friday.
"Supposedly there's more crews coming down to relieve us," Cole said Friday morning. "Where we are in Freeport, they're turning the power on tomorrow, and they're worried about house fires."
Asked why they volunteered, Stinson recalled the 18 other fire departments that came to Saranac Lake's aid in the spring 2011 floods.
"We were able to have our department run because of people coming to help us," he said. "It's just a favor that we have to pay back."
"When our guys are in need, we go wherever they need help," Cole said. "We don't know these guys at all, but we're still somewhat of a family, and families help each other."
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.