Local first responders head downstate to pitch in on Sandy recovery

Photo: An upstate DEP crew works to pump out Manhattan's Battery Underpass, which was submerged under 12 feet of Sandy floodwaters at the height of the storm surge. Photo dated Nov. 1, courtesy of NYC DEP.

Since Sandy made landfall, local firefighters, police, New York City Department of Environmental Protection staff from the upstate watershed area, and other professionals from around the Catskills region have been heading south to help New York City and Long Island recover from Hurricane Sandy. For local first responders who were overwhelmed by the local disaster Irene left behind last year, it's something of a role reversal.

According to an article in the Delaware County Times on October 30, a crew of first responders from Delaware County went to Nassau County on Long Island. Responding fire departments included Stamford, Sidney, and Delhi, with Sidney and Stamford each taking two fire engines and two utility trucks.

In the article, administrative assistant Dallis Wright of Delaware County Emergency Services said the crews served a “72-hour tour of duty” in accordance with the New York State Mutual Aid Plan:

"It is rare that it works this way," said Wright, "that we are not the ones who need assistance. For a change, we can go help others."

Personnel from Schoharie County also went to Nassau. In a post on Facebook last Saturday, Middleburgh Fire Department reported that firemen who traveled to Long Beach had returned home safely from the hard-hit community:

We thank everyone that supported our department on there mission. And realize that what we did for LBFD, is the same hundreds of fire dept's did for ALL of US in our time of need. Our thoughts and prayers to all effected by Sandy and all the first responders that are working to help rebuild and care for those in need.

Other Schoharie County fire departments have also heeded the call for downstate mutual aid. In a follow-up post on Monday, Middleburgh FD wished other departments a safe deployment, including Schoharie, Central Bridge, Cobleskill, Sharon Springs, Summit Jefferson, Kinderhook, and Germantown.

Firemen aren't the only upstate personnel doing good work downstate. The Department of Environmental Protection and Delaware County Public Works have sent crews to pump floodwater and clear downed trees in New York City. Fifteen DEP Watershed Operations staff members from Delaware, Sullivan, Ulster, and Orange Counties gathered at the Wastewater Treatment Plant in Grahamsville before heading to NYC last week. They were joined by two heavy equipment operators from the Delaware County DPW.

As of Saturday, crews had already drained Manhattan’s flooded Battery Underpass using industrial Godwin pumps brought to the city from the watershed. They moved on to pump out sewage stations in Brooklyn and schools in Queens. Meanwhile, industrial wood chippers, excavators, chain saws and other equipment from the watershed was used to clear downed trees and limbs in Queens.

The DEP has dubbed these two initiatives “Task Force Chipper” and “Task Force Godwin,” in honor of the respective equipment. Work will continue until the NYC recovery effort is complete, with staff being rotated out every three to four days.

State Police have also traveled south to help as part of a statewide mobilization, doubling the number of troopers with Long Island's Troop L. They include fifteen members of local Troop F, which covers Greene, Sullivan and Ulster Counties, among others. Local state police who went volunteered to do so.

The Daily Freeman reports that the upstate troopers are helping Long Island local police keep order amid the chaos:

Lt. James Michael, who’s stationed at the town of Ulster barracks, said he and other local troopers are in Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island helping the police departments there with everything from crime-suppression patrols to traffic details. He said the troopers are dealing with people who have lost homes or are affected by continuing power outages and an inability to buy gas.

Michael said the upstate troopers also have answered questions from residents on topics ranging from how to get places to health-care issues to power restoration.

The Ulster County Sheriff's Office has also lent a hand -- and a four-wheel-drive vehicle -- to the recovery effort. The Kingston Times reports:

Last year, the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office received a four-wheel drive GMC dual-wheel pickup used during last year’s storms Irene and Lee’s clean-up stage free of charge from the military through a federal program. On Thursday, the sheriff’s office received a plea for assistance from the state Emergency Operation Center on behalf of the Long Beach Police Department in Nassau County. The police down there were requesting patrol vehicles, since most of theirs were lost to salt water and sand. Undersheriff Frank Faluotico, Sgt. Perry Soule and Deputy Brandon Bergenn delivered the vehicle to Long Beach Police Department Commissioner Michael Tangney, who immediately deployed it. Ulster personnel also met with state police Capt. Pierce Gallagher to tour the devastated areas.

Faluotico described streets filled with six to eight feet of sand — in some spots as high as 25 feet — and garages filled with six feet of sand.

“Walking through Irene last year and looking at what they’re going through,” said Faluotico, “They had sand and we had mud. We had to get mud out of the houses, but sand is so minute that it’s going to take forever to clean up. It’s everywhere.”

Do you have photos, video or first-hand accounts of local first responders working on downstate Sandy aid? Send them to us at editor@watershedpost.com.