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...

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A new windshield and right power mirror had been replaced by our engineer and all of the emergency lighting was replaced on the damaged side.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.