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November 14. 2012 10:52PM

NH firefighters stunned by N.Y. damage


Exeter firefighter Ryan Booth, left, and Jeff Liporto, fire crew chief, carry a reclining chair out of a house in Brooklyn, N.Y., Wednesday that was flooded during Hurricane Sandy. (JASON SCHREIBER/Union Leader Correspondent)
BROOKLYN, N.Y. - Brooklyn fire Lt. Patrick Grady will never forget that frightening moment when the water began rushing into the first floor of his house in Gerritsen Beach.

"I just felt helpless," he said as he recalled Hurricane Sandy's disastrous floods that forced him to run upstairs and hope for the best.

Grady ended up with about two feet of water that wrecked his first floor, but as bad as it was, he knows it could have been so much worse. Others had as much as 7 feet and some were in their basements when the water came.

"They were lucky to get out," he said.

Like so many others in the wake of Sandy, Grady now faces the daunting task of gutting the first floor and starting over. It's overwhelming for the 38-year-old firefighter who lives alone, but he got some much-needed help Wednesday when six Exeter firefighters showed up to help their brother firefighter.

"We're all appreciative down here. It's amazing," he said of Exeter's crew and other volunteers who have offered a hand.

Working side by side with Grady, the firefighters spent part of the day tearing out the damaged wooden floors and bathroom tiles and tossing them onto the front yard of a neighborhood where garbage bags, water-logged appliances and furniture, and other debris from flooded homes are piled on the streets.

Volunteering to help hurricane victims for the past two days in the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens was an eye-opener for the Exeter firefighters. They said they never could have imagined the magnitude of the disaster until they saw it for themselves.

"It's just everywhere," said Exeter fire crew chief Lee Dawson, who volunteered for the trip along with firefighters Ryan Booth and Richard Curtis, crew chief Jeff Liporto, and Lt. Jason Greene.

The firefighters teamed up with Friends of Firefighters Inc., a group that offers assistance to active and retired New York City firefighters and gave the Exeter crew a place to sleep in the old Brooklyn firehouse. They delivered donated relief supplies when they arrived on Tuesday and headed out with their toolbelts Wednesday to get some work done.

New York City firefighter Ed Demaio needed some extra hands to move furniture and other belongings out his girlfriend's mother's house in Brooklyn after it flooded. The work was done in a matter of only about 15 minutes when the Exeter firefighters arrived.

"Many hands make light work," he said.

Demaio then took the Exeter crews on a walk to Grady's house, where his car with condensation in the windows sat in his driveway. He said he can't drive anywhere for food because the car is ruined and he has no kitchen at the moment, so he's been walking to a site nearby to grab a hot meal.

"Two meals a day, that's it," he said.

Despite the misery left in Sandy's wake, Dawson said he was impressed by the victims he saw working to clean up the mess.

"All these folks, they just put their noses down and went to work," he said.

By Wednesday afternoon, the Exeter crew had made their way to Rockaway Beach in Queens, where they delivered supplies. The scene was more desperate there after Sandy's storm surge caused widespread destruction. The boardwalk along the beach was obliterated. Hundreds of vehicles tossed around by Sandy still sit in the sand-covered streets and parking lots. Severed electrial lines hang everywhere. Power is still out and some residents have been told that it may not return until January. A sign on one man's property warned, "We Shoot Looters." The message on a another sign stuck in a pile of beach sand down the road made a plea for help: "Volunteers Needed Please."

"This is like that movie 'The Day After,'" resident Buddy Sammis said while delivering a red gas can to a friend.

Firefighter Richard Curtis handed some baby wipes to a woman on the street. The rest of the Exeter fire crew pulled together the last of their Power Bars, crackers, and toiletries and gave them to man struggling to keep warm in his basement.

"This made me realize how much help they really need," Lt. Jason Greene said of the two days in New York. "Just because it's not in the news it doesn't mean it's over."

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Jason Schreiber may be reached at jschreiber@newstote.com.

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