With its raging floodwaters and fierce winds that gusted up to 85 miles per hour, Hurricane Sandy severely tested the Merrick Fire Department, but according to department spokesman Ron Luparello, Merrick’s bravest weathered the storm, aiding countless residents as they struggled to stay afloat in what many described as the “storm of the century.”
With a 10-foot tidal surge, Sandy brought floodwaters as far north as Merrick Road, trapping hundreds of helpless residents who stayed in the south Merrick evacuation zone. Fire volunteers could not rescue all of those who wanted to evacuate as the storm bore down on the community, but, Luparello said, volunteers spent the long night of Oct. 29 in the department’s rescue boat, ferrying residents suffering from serious medical conditions to higher ground.
“A lot of the guys went way out of their way,” Luparello said. “There were members wading through water. It was like rapids. There were a lot of heroics that people don’t know about.
“There were some places we could never reach, they were so bad,” he added. “We were swamped.”
That night, Luparello said, the department received a frantic call from a friend of a south Merrick resident who had posted on Facebook that there was smoke in her home. The friend saw the post and believed the home was on fire. It wasn’t. But department volunteers commandeered a landscaper’s dump truck to reach the home, which was surrounded by 5-foot-deep floodwaters.
“We had no other way to get there,” Luparello said.
The department did fight two actual fires during the storm, and one volunteer was hospitalized after sustaining injuries battling a building fire.
The department lost entire fire engines during Sandy, because trucks were exposed to saltwater on rescue runs. One ladder truck had its computer system knocked out. One engine truck’s brake lines rotted out in the days after the storm. Another engine truck was damaged by floating debris. The department is now borrowing equipment from the East Meadow Fire Department to handle the myriad calls that have come in during the past two weeks, including a half-dozen fires that started when people attempted to start submerged electrical or heating systems or cars. In all, the department has responded to 280 calls since Sandy hit –– or, put another way, three months’ worth of calls in two weeks.