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Disasters and Dumb-Asses: A Bad Combination

Having lived through the worst hurricane to hit my state in more than a century, I feel qualified to make a few statements on things which are happening in the world around you and me. Let me start by stating that as bad as things were in Howell Township Fire District #2, they were considerably worse in the northern part of our state.

Those poor folks up in Essex, Passaic, Morris, Bergen, and Hudson counties got smacked hard by the flooding rivers. As I am writing this piece, there are still many places without power. As a matter of fact, there are people in my neck of the woods who are still without power. Things have changed, and not for the better. As we in New Jersey wait for federal assistance, forces are at work whose actions seemingly want to deny my state, and many others, the needed funds to rebuild. Now folks, it is time for the view of things from my front porch.

Before talking about the storm and its impact on my community, I want you to think about the dumb-assed politicians who have held our governmental infrastructure hostage at every level from the local, to the county, to the state and then on up to the federal level. For these ethically-challenged and brain-dead mutants, it is all about dollars. It is all about cut, cut, cut. These are the folks who have preached the mantra of doing more with less. Guess what. If you spend less, you are bound to get less.

Yes, my friends, I am speaking about the same federal government that is nickel and dime-ing you and me to death. The same government which has not given my mother a social security increase in two years and has failed to do the same thing for my fellow military retires and me. This is also the same idiot government which seems unable to account for 60 billion dollars in aid money to Iraq and Afghanistan. How in the hell do you misplace 60 billion dollars? Having said that so much money was misplaced by thieving contractors and incompetent bureaucrats, how can this same government now wish to start playing budget games with people who desperately need help?

These are the same folks who want to hold up our federal disaster relief while they look for cuts in other parts of the federal budget. Give me a break. How in the heck can these myopic morons fiddle around in Washington while the citizens on the East Coast are watching their way of life float away? Government comes at a cost. That is an ancient axiom of life. I am thinking that maybe if we weren't so busy conducting a world-wide butt foreign aid smooching festival with the money you and I send to Washington, we could do more for the people who really need help.

You know who I am talking about. These are the folks whose homes were blown away in the Midwest, burned to the ground in Oklahoma, Texas, and a variety of other places and are floating away all up and down the Northeast corridor. Wake up Washington. Charity begins at home and many of us really need for the federal government to stop playing politics, get off their collective kiesters and do what they were elected to do.

If Congressman Eric Cantor, and those of his political viewpoint, would take the time to gaze out at the real world outside of his ivy-covered tower window, get off of his penurious pathway, and take a look at what the real Americans want, we would be much better off. This man is one of the leading advocates for gutting the budgets of FEMA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other federal agencies who are really getting the job done.

How much different would things have been in the absence of the many predictions and course change corrections from the federal weather folks that allowed our emergency managers to evacuate the danger areas? Where is this man's mind when it comes to the real world in which you and I work and live our daily lives?

However, the actions of our politicians during this time of domestic turmoil tell the true tale. They really do not care about you and me. We are just numbers on a page, and small ones at that. They only care about gaining power and perpetuating their pernicious political positions. Me, I could care less about these pieces of political cow plops.

Folks my town does not need any more sound bites and press conferences. It does not need a visit from the governor or the president. It needs funding in order to be able to fix all of the bridges which were attacked by the flood waters. The same holds true all over the map here in New Jersey. Let me also suggest that the same holds true in any state where the citizens are struggling to get on with the living of their lives. We get visits from politicians when what we really need is a rapid infusion of capital.

Let us now look to another source of annoyance. I also want you to think about the rants and raves of that infamous father and son team known as the Paul family. Talk about the danger of having people in positions of power without a clue as to the reality of life in these here United States; wow what a couple of losers. They think the federal government has no place in the world of disaster relief. They also want to cut funding for FEMA.

Ron and Rand are the people who seemingly believe that we should all return to the "good" old days when it was "every man for themselves" when disaster struck. These are the sorts of people who would rather that you and I float down the river and out to sea than spend a single, red cent to help us, or at least that is how I read the bovine by-products which they are dishing out to the media.

Are you kidding me? From where do we dredge up dopes like this? Now given that many on our federal government are more interested in ideology than humanity, let me turn for a moment to one microcosm of what makes up America: my fire district here in Howell Township, NJ. Let me share one small segment of the human experience with you.

Let me now share one man's view of this great storm tragedy with you. There is nothing special in my story, for you see it is but one of many similar tales which could be shared with you. However, it happens to be the one which my firefighter daughter Katie and I lived over the course of the last week or so. Katie and I worked together for many hours gathering the data for the reports, until she was sent out on the rescue truck to assist with the flood evacuations at one of our hardest hit developments.

In order to properly set the story I want to share with you the fact that our area here in New Jersey has been pounded by a series of storms this summer dating back to late July. It was at one of these storms that a pumper from our fire company suffered a heavy dose of damage when a pine tree struck the right front end of the unit during a Friday night storm. Luckily for us, all the members onboard the pumper were wearing their turnout gear, and all were seated and buckled. So we entered August light a pumper unit.

My friends, the past two weeks have been particularly rough for those of us who live along the right coast of our great nation. Although Hurricane Irene hogged the headlines for the last several days, the problems which we have been experiencing here in my humble little fire district actually went back to the week before the damage done by that devastating dame, Irene.

Our share of the Garden State got smacked by a series of three back-to-back thunderstorms on the Sunday before the hurricane. Here in my little part of the world, we saw flooding unlike any ever seen in my lifetime spent in the Greater Freehold area. I know there were three because I enjoyed a cigar on the front porch during each of them. However, I knew there was going to be a problem when the rain from the third storm just kept right on a coming and my gutters kept overflowing.

By the time the night was over, we had responded to a whole host of the usual wires down, trees down, and transformer fires one would expect during a hard thunder storm. However, we were not prepared for the major flooding which tore through one of our developments. People were being evacuated ahead of the flooding Manasquan River and the Adelphia Fire Company was in there pitching hard to help out.

Our guys were called upon to rescue a number of people from various precarious positions. In addition, we had major flooding on U.S. Highway 9 unlike any we had ever witnessed before. However, the power outages were limited and electricity was quickly restored. Just as the citizens of our district were beginning to get back to some form of normal, Hurricane Irene began rumbling up the East Coast on her mission to make our lives more miserable.

As you might imagine, the rivers, streams, and creeks were not ready for what Irene was going to bring. The same held true for the soil in our area of the state. The three thunderstorms had left it saturated and unable to soak up another ounce of water. And at that point, no one had yet found the extra dam which had been built on the Manasquan River by an enterprising group of eager beavers. Yes, I mean real, live beavers of the animal variety.

Not wanting to be caught unprepared, the officers of the Adelphia Fire Company began their storm planning and preparing while Irene was still cruising across the ocean far south of us. Equipment was shifted about and our units were all checked and prepared for duty. We were even able to place the unit back in service which had been damaged during the bad storm back in July which I mentioned above.

A new windshield and right power mirror had been replaced by our engineer and all of the emergency lighting was replaced on the damaged side. The only thing wrong was that it looked liked someone had bashed the heck out of the front with a baseball bat. Let me assure you that it is truly amazing what a roll of duct tape cane do during a time of crisis.

Anyway, committees were formed and volunteers were for standby storm duty at our main station. On Friday, the committee in charge of feeding the troops went shopping to insure that we had plenty of food for the force. As the hours ticked away, we all began to get ready for what we anticipated to be a really bad time. We had a roster of 26 people available for storm duty.

The problems for our district actually started early on Saturday night while the bulk of the storm was still pounding North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland. Our standby crews were due to arrive at around 1900 hours however it was at about 1830 hours that we began getting calls for help. Transformers were starting to explode, trees were beginning to tumble, and the transmission wires were starting to fall.

The difference this time around was that it did not stop raining. Unlike the storm the week prior, the whirling winds and the driving rain went on for hour upon hour. During the emergency period our units were staffed with five people per pumper and six on the rescue vehicle. Our tower ladder was out of service with mechanical problems.

Our officers held the company responses to a single unit per incident. Our smaller units (vans and pickup trucks) had two people assigned to each. We knew that mutual aid would be extremely difficult to get, because everyone in the area was suffering through the same things we were. However, we felt we were going to be ready for whatever might Mother Nature might send our way.

Over the course of the next several hours, the rain continued to pummel us and the waters in the various rivers and creeks continued to rise. At some time late on Saturday night our company received a call to respond to a flooded home where the structure had collapsed and people were trapped. This was in an area right next to the Manasquan River.

At the same time we received a call from our township office of emergency management to begin assisting in a large-scale evacuation of a flooded developed. Our officers chose to respond to the collapse emergency. Unfortunately, we could not reach the area in question because every road around it was flooded and impassable. We called our mutual aid partners in the Freewood Acres Fire Company and asked them to come in from the south, below the collapse area.

Responding units could make it no closer than within about 500 yards of the street in question and we were beginning to get calls of other collapses and trapped people on the same street. The entire area of U.S Highway 9, Casino Drive, and Bergerville Road looked more like a pond that a series of local roads. Our request for a rescue boat was met by silence.

It was then that our people, ably assisted by the Freewood Acres' crew began to wade in through chest-deep water. With the assistance of a front-end loader and sheer guts, they were able to rescue a total of 10 people from the collapsed homes in the affected area. These folks were evacuated to a storm shelter onboard a converted military cargo vehicle which had been provided by a neighboring community.

My friends, our fire company was on duty for well over 24 hours. Our firehouse lost power early on Saturday evening. Thankfully our emergency generator carried the load for many hours. We carried on from Saturday evening into the early hours of Monday morning. At some point on Sunday night, we were able to rotate our crews out for some well-earned rest.

However, we were kept busy over the next couple of days pumping out basements and helping local homeowners. Please bear in mind that we did nothing spectacular here. We were just one of hundreds of fire departments in New Jersey who stepped forward to serve their communities. Fire departments and first aid squads came to the aid of their fellow citizens.

Sadly the Princeton Fire Aid and Rescue Squad lost a member to the raging flood waters. Michael Kenwood was swept away from his partner during a rescue operation to reach a reported driver trapped in a car. He is survived by a wife and three-year-old daughter.

Like all disaster operations, it will take a period of time to gather the information, create the reports, and come to the next round of conclusions as to what we might do better next time. Of course it does not look like Mother Nature is going to give us the luxury of time for reflection. As I am writing this commentary, two more storms appear to be headed our way.

With that in mind, let me chide our recalcitrant lawmakers in Washington, D.C. to get the hell off of their soap boxes and come back down to the reality of the tragedies afflicting the citizens who look to them for help. Let me assure them that "compromise" is not a dirty word. It is the mark of a true statesman. Let me suggest that we stop sending our money to support foreign dictators and ingrate countries around the world. There are people in many parts of our country who can make use of the resources being sent oversees.

Why did FEMA have to divert resources from the tornado victims in Joplin, MO to send money to New Jersey? Why do certain people in Washington, D.C. think that they have a mandate from the Lord himself to save money on the backs of people who desperately need help? Let me say quite simply to the powers that be: Enough with the political posturing.

It is nice to think of ourselves as a caring and concerned nation. But when that caring and concern comes at the expense of starving our own federal disaster programs to support regimes around the world who really hate us, then I say quite simply: Enough is enough my friends. If we can bail out General Motors and Iraq we can sure as hell bail out my flooded fellow citizens in North Jersey, as well as all of the states who need aid.

However, these are just the words of an aging, grey-haired, retired fire chief who enjoys an occasional cigar while puffing and pondering the problems of the world on his front porch. I look at the world and speak my mind. No my friends, it would appear to me that disasters and dumb-asses are not a real good combination.

HARRY R. CARTER, Ph.D., CFO, MIFireE, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, is a municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ. Dr. Carter retired from the Newark, NJ, Fire Department and is a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia Fire Company. Follow Harry on his A View From my Front Porch blog. He recently published several texts, including Leadership: A View from the Trenches and Living My Dream: Dr. Harry Carter's 2006 FIRE Act Road Trip. You can reach Harry by e-mail at drharrycarter@optonline.net.

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