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First Responders Proud to Serve During Lacey's 'Darkest Hour'

EMS, firefighters, police worked tirelessly during Hurricane Sandy to keep township safe

When township officials and emergency services met to prepare for Hurricane Sandy, they developed a plan to limit risk to first responders by halting rescues in floodwaters for those who ignored mandatory evacuation orders.

But when those floodwaters became a harsh reality, everyone from public works and recreation employees to police, fire and EMS staff, disregarded that directive.

“It was on the fly. There was a need so we decided to give it a try,” said John Hode, president of Lacey EMS.

Front-end Loaders ‘Not Really Meant For Rescuing People’

They coordinated rescues from a triage on Sunset Drive and another at the Lacey Elk’s Lodge on Beach Boulevard where they utilized an ex-military truck and township front-end loaders to go through the floodwaters and reach residents.

Three police officers stood in the bucket of the front-end loader while three other responders sat in the cab. The truck was driven through the floods and lifted residents from the front of their homes to dry land where they then caught a bus driven by recreation employees to a shelter.

Sixty rescues were made, said Bob Resetar, Deputy Coordinator of the Office of Emergency Management and chief of Lanoka Harbor EMS.

 “The water came in so fast it crushed garage doors and blew out back walls,” said Dominick Perrone of Lacey EMS.

One rescue placed a family of five in the bucket along with two dogs. Another rescued a woman in a wheel chair.

“It’s not really meant for rescuing people,” Dennis Barcalow of Public Works said of the front-end loaders. “It’s not something we normally do. In that situation, we do what we have to do.”

For those who refused to leave even after the storm surge had inundated streets and homes, the emergency service members took personal information — name, address, birthday, social security number — in case they went missing, Perrone said.

On Tuesday afternoon, Lacey EMS responded to the home of a paraplegic who refused to leave, said Scott Stenerson of the squad.

“There’s nothing you can do. He did not want to go,” he said. “Seeing all the houses down there destroyed; there was no road, it was the bay. You live in this town so it’s heart wrenching.”

 “We’re kind of used to this stuff being with the fire department," Barcalow said. “We go into fires. I didn’t do anything special. We were all doing our jobs. Nobody considers themselves a hero. It’s our nature.”

EMS, Firefighter Response

Lacey EMS made 30 to 50 emergency responses and had the first response unit staffed at all times, Hode said. The EMS building became a shelter with family members of the staff, neighbors and pets staying overnight.

The squads realized the seriousness of the storms with the flooding, which even began on Sunday, Hode said.

“It was something we’ve never seen before,” he said. “There was a lot of buildup going into it. I don’t think it disappointed.”

When Lacey EMS was responding to a severe respiratory call at approximately 2 a.m. on Tuesday, the numbers on homes were not visible, he said. The squad passed the home and saw ahead a reporter from the Weather Channel knee high in floodwater.

“That’s when you know you’re in the height of the storm,” he said.

The Forked River Fire Department made 150 calls and had 5,674 man-hours from Sunday through Friday. Calls consisted of wires and trees down, gas leaks, carbon monoxide detector activations, evacuations and well being checks and rescues, said Scott Knauer, assistant Chief of the Forked River Fire Department.

“We had such a high volume of calls all at once,” he said.

The departments are still responding to storm-related calls, he said. When power was restored, appliances, outlets and wires were shorting out.

“These guys are volunteers,” he said of the fire department. “They had their own issues at their own houses. But they were still out helping people.”

The Lanoka Harbor Fire Department made 82 calls during and preceding the storm while Bamber Lake made 100.

There was one call at the end of Claremore Avenue that the Lanoka Harbor Fire Department could not get to, Assistant Chief Kevin Perrone said. The Army truck and front-end loaders were utilized. There were two car fires next to a home.

“We were able to get there but not as quickly as we wanted to,” he said. “All of the firemen handled it very well. We did the best we could. The whole township did.” 

DPW Efforts

Public Works spent much time picking up trees and moving them out of the streets to ensure roads were accessible. Once the roads started to flood, the phones started ringing, said employee Kevin Flynn, also a member of the Forked River Fire Company.

“We were just running around like crazy all night long,” he said. “After 27 years on the fire department, I’ve pretty much seen it all. It’s just another day at work. But I don’t think in my lifetime, I’ll ever see a storm like that again. That’s the storm of the century.”

The Department of Public Works is still working to clean up town of branches and debris, he said.

Currently, Flynn is working in the recycling yard where large volumes of debris and items are being dropped off.

“It’s non-stop all day long, truck after truck. People are bringing it in on top of what we’re picking up. It’s unbelievable. The volume is incredible,” he said. “The town is devastated. It’s going to be a while before the town completely recovers.”

Leading up to the storm and even throughout, a major task was clearing all roads. Public Works opened every major artery so each area of town was accessible, he said.

Throughout it all, Resetar was never overwhelmed, he said.

“What I was concerned with, we didn’t know the affects the tide would be so we continually monitored that. When it got dark, it got dark. In the middle of all this we had the time change, which added to the complication of this operation.”

Although the township has made improvements since the storm, full recovery is still down the road, he said. The township is starting the FEMA process now.

“I don’t have a crystal ball. It’s going to be a while. A lot of people lost a lot of personal belongings and possessions. They lived in areas they never thought would be impacted by water and were,” he said.

Police Response

Following the rescues and when the floodwaters receded, to reduce the likelihood of looting, the police department utilized “fixed access control points” in the affected areas, Capt. David Paprota said. Those check points were lifted on Sunday, Nov. 11.

“We firmly believe these control points significantly reduced or eliminated incidences of theft and victimization in our town,” he said.

The police department received continuous calls from the public the day before the storm struck, he said. The Communications Center was staffed with three dispatchers, 24 hours a day.

“They were literally answering nearly 1,000 calls from the public per shift. That volume persisted in the days immediately following the storm,” he said.

The Police Department utilized generators to power their individual communication towers so there was uninterrupted communications throughout the course of the storm, he said.

Calls were going through locally rather than through the county, Hode had said.

“We were planning to be on our own,” he said.

Before and after the storm, police officers conducted home visits to residents who had special concerns such as being homebound, on oxygen, kidney dialysis, etc.

“It was pretty interesting,” Paprota said. “It was inspiring to see officers jumping into action during the height of the storm and in the rescue efforts that followed without regard for their own safety and well-being, showing true concern for the public.”

Knauer said it’s hard to explain.

“A lot of folks that volunteer, this is what they enjoy doing. They love helping the public. Despite all the bad stuff going on, it makes them feel good inside and gives them pride that they helped somebody,” he said.

“I love helping the people of Lacey. I just get that good feeling after. That at that person’s darkest hour, we’re there,” Stenerson said.

grace November 16, 2012 at 03:32 PM
i thank you all too! it must have been frightening to be out in that storm with water raging transformers blowing people freaking,,,god bless you all and a special well done to the police dept!
Cindy November 16, 2012 at 08:21 PM
Thank you to all first responders for an incredible job above and beyond the call of duty! My son is on the EMS squad and we didn't see him for days! Thank you Kevin and all at Forked River EMS. You are true heroes!
Ant dine November 17, 2012 at 12:27 PM
Lacey did and is doing an incredible job.....well done everyone!
Ellen DiFranco November 19, 2012 at 11:20 PM
Thanks for rescuing me on Tuesday before the second high tide with the big red monster truck. Next time I am definitely evacuating. We had never seen anything like this before here at the bay. It was very scary and you were truly my heros.
JOHNNY Done it November 20, 2012 at 04:55 AM
THANKS TO ALL EMERGENCY RESPONDERS.. Hopefully the twp OEM has learned a lesson , Use your assets , You have a large High school building , Get a grant for a generator instead of shipping our residents to TR & Burlington county & get the red cross to assist at the shelter..

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