Massive Storm Poses Unique Risks - Part 1

Dealing with nasty, weather-related storms is nothing new to firefighters. When any of us heard about the massive storms that hit the mid-Atlantic coast within the past year, we naturally thought about “before and during the storm” issues. From...


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During the summer and fall of 2012, the City of Margate was struck by two large storms, the first being a “derecho” that occurred on June 30. (Wikipedia defines a “derecho” as a widespread, long-lived, straight-line windstorm associated with a fast-moving band of severe thunderstorms.) During this storm, the MCFD responded to approximately 45 responses in a six-hour period. At the height of this storm front passing through, we responded to two structure fires in the Borough of Longport; one was a historic church that was destroyed and the other was a single-family dwelling that was struck by lightning. At the storm’s peak, we lost all radio communications, so we were dispatching fire apparatus to calls via cell phones and Direct Connect. It was several hours before the radio system was completely restored. In addition, the department responded to several more calls that were related to the storm over the next several days. This storm caught us by surprise as we had no warning that it was approaching and no preparation period.

For Hurricane Sandy, we had several days’ notice to prepare. The fire department administration developed a plan of action, advising all of our personnel that they would be required to report for duty and to prepare for being away from their families for up to three days. We advised them to bring in enough provisions for a three-day period as well.

On Sunday morning, Oct. 28, we moved out of Longport Station 3 and set up for long-term operations at a senior citizen complex in the northwest corner of our community. We planned to staff both the senior citizen complex and our Station 2 during the height of the storm. We contacted the owner of our local supermarket, Casel’s Marketplace, and the owner told us to take whatever food and provisions we needed for the fire and police departments. We stockpiled food at the police department, Station 2 and the senior citizen complex.

During the evening of Oct. 28, we started to bring in each shift, staggering them over a two-hour period until all department personnel had reported for duty. We had a meeting with all of our officers at 8 P.M. and we set the plan into action. Operational periods were set up and personnel were assigned by platoon to each operational period with four officers assigned to each operational period. The operational period that we initially started with was six hours, but as the storm surge worsened, we changed it to four-hour periods to give personnel a break from action sooner. We placed our front line Quint 24 and Ambulance A-20 out of service and left them at Station 2. That station is on high ground and there was no water at or around it during the storm surges.

High tides flood homes

The first high tide came at around 7:30 A.M. on Oct. 29. This tide was very high and flooded more than 60% percent of the City of Margate. During this time, we were responding to a number of calls in our 1989 Suburban and other ancillary vehicles. We had to abandon the Suburban in a high parking lot and personnel were rescued by the Margate Police Department’s 2½-ton truck. We retrieved the Suburban three hours later, when the tide receded by about a foot to three to four feet of water, in a public works dump truck.

Calls were coming in for residents who wanted to be evacuated to a shelter or to a friend’s house on higher ground. We developed a plan with our police department to put an officer and three firefighters in cold-water immersion suits with two police personnel in the 2½-ton truck. They responded to all calls for evacuation. We assigned an officer and a firefighter to the public works dump truck to respond to any other calls that came in. During the height of the storm, we responded to a fire involving a vehicle parked in a driveway and next to the house and another car. At the time, the winds were sustained 40 to 50 mph. The crew used a fire department engine to respond and took a back road, a dirt road, to get around high water and make it to the scene safely. The crew quickly extinguished the vehicle fire with a 1¾-inch line and the only additional damage was to a car parked nearby. It was right around this time that the Atlantic County Office of Emergency Management issued a countywide no-response clause due to excessive winds.

As the second high tide approached, we noticed that very little water had receded in the city; in fact, when the second tide hit, we had areas of town that had never seen flood waters until Hurricane Sandy made landfall. Chief Tabasso was one of the people affected. He has lived in Margate City for more than 55 years and had never had any water in his home, but the lower level was flooded during the second high tide.