Upper Valley firefighters aid victims of Hurricane Sandy

Union Leader Correspondent
December 04. 2012 8:52PM

HANOVER - Five Upper Valley firefighters spent four days helping other firefighters in Hurricane Sandy torn New York City boroughs last week and are planning another trip this January.

During their four days there they delivered supplies donated from Upper Valley residents needed for cleanup and reconstruction and cleaned wet basements, but it felt like "just a drop in the bucket," compared to the work still needed in the devastated area, said Lebanon firefighter Eric James.

"There was pretty incredible devastation. We were sort of surprised how wide spread it was," James said. "We were all pretty impressed with how much work there is to do. There's a long way to go. Just tons and tons of work to do."

James and Hanover firefighter Troy Leatherman led the drive for construction and cleanup materials as well as the trip to New York for the New York firefighters and their families whose homes were devastated by Sandy.

They were joined by Hanover firefighter Wayne Dunham, Lebanon firefighter Jonathon Copeland and North Pomfret, Vermont, firefighter Chris Reilly.

The firefighters worked through Friends of Firefighters, a non-profit created after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, to help New York City firefighters with physical, mental health and wellness needs.

"Certainly hurricane relief was never in their plan," James said. As soon as the crisis occurred, leaders in the non-profit knew the public safety workers would be in need.

The Upper Valley firemen arrived on Sunday, Nov. 25, with two truck loads and one trailer full of donated supplies, such as shovels, hammers, work gloves, garbage cans, sump pumps and dehumidifiers, and spent the day in Breezy Point dropping off the supplies and seeing them put to work right away.

What wasn't handed out immediately went to an empty department store that had been repurposed into a distribution center for other supplies that had been donated to Friends of Firefighters.

"We all just wanted to help and it was very gratifying, very rewarding, just to drive down there and start unloading stuff," Leatherman said. "Firefighters, in general, are used to helping people. They are not used to accepting help, period."

However, the New York City firefighters were incredibly thankful, James and Leatherman said. Along with the supplies the firemen also brought about $1,400 in cash, checks and gift cards for Lowe's and Home Depot that Upper Valley residents had donated.

The next three days the firefighters spent cleaning out ocean soaked basements in Rockaway and Breezy Point in Queens that had been flooded by Sandy. James described it as a "pump and gut" operation. The salt water had already been pumped out of the basements. What remained was to gut the basements, removing the soaking wet drywall and insulation from the basements.

"We would spend all day with our heads down ripping out drywall," Leatherman said. It's very important that this pumping and gutting work be completed so the basements could be treated with chemicals to prevent mold and mildew from setting in, the firemen said.

And the volunteers were not just helping firefighters and their families, one homeowner helped was a Staten Island Ferry pilot.

At night the firemen bunked with other firefighters, who had volunteered from around the county, in a retired firehouse building in the Redhook section of Brooklyn that had been outfitted with bunk beds for the volunteers from an Ikea down the street. The firefighters used a makeshift shower made out of a 20-gallon hot water heater and a hose.

The volunteers managed the rough conditions cheerily, though, because it was only for four days, Leatherman said.

Most people in the New York City boroughs they came across were still without electricity, he said.

"This is a long recovery. Just because it's not in the news cycle or the front page, it hasn't gone away," Leatherman said.

The firemen are planning to return this January to continue helping, hopefully this time with reconstruction and a larger group of volunteers.

James said it was a lot of fun, because most of the Upper Valley volunteers have backgrounds in construction so demolition is work they can do.

"We happen to have that skill set and it's sort of fun to go down and help," James said. Though he was surprised at the amount of devastation that remains a month after Sandy hit, the city is slowly returning, he said. "It seems like they are bouncing back pretty well and there are a lot of good attitudes down there."

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