Working the Streets Rapid Response Vehicle Operations

streets

BY MICHAEL N. CIAMPO

The Fire Department of New York (FDNY) 25 Special Operations Command (SOC) Rapid Response Vehicles (RRVs) would be doing their share of the work during and in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy’s massive destruction throughout the city. During the initial phases of the storm, these units were staffed with an officer and two firefighters in case they had to respond with the company to which they were assigned or they had to be used for task force responses for the numerous calls that soon would be flooding the city’s 911 system. One such example was these units’ response to an elevated crane collapse on top of a high-rise building in midtown Manhattan, where they operated with the rescue and squad companies on the scene. Other units were dispatched and operated alone, cutting down trees to open roadways for emergency vehicle response.

Initially on the day after the storm, our unit responded to the hard-hit area of Breezy Point, Queens, where more than 100 homes had burned down in a major conflagration during the height of the storm. The entire firehouse consisting of Engine Company 93, Ladder Company 45, and Battalion Chief 13 responded as a Decontamination Task Force. The units assisted in the decontamination operations of firefighting forces and the unit’s apparatus after leaving Breezy Point after final extinguishment of the fire, search, overhaul, and salvage operations. This assignment was especially meaningful to our firehouse because one of our member’s relatives had lost his home and personal belongings at this tragedy.

After FDNY assessed the massive destruction and devastation throughout the city, it placed all of the RRVs in service with an officer and two firefighters to assist the citizens, support cleanup and tree-removal operations, perform search and recovery operations, pump out basements with trash pumps, and perform miscellaneous tasks that the units might encounter while out in their designated areas.

MORNING BRIEFINGS

For each morning following the storm, the members assigned to work or the RRVs reported for duty at 0700 hours and checked the apparatus tools and equipment inventory. The officer checked the daily Incident Action Plan (IAP) for the division and borough to which they were assigned, and then the unit would travel to that location and arrive by 0800 hours.

Once arriving at the division, the unit’s officer would report in and attend a briefing by the deputy chief and task force (TF) leader, where they would learn the location in which they were working and the duties they were assigned. The officer was assigned a portable radio and received a log sheet to record the unit’s activities, a task sheet with areas or incidents to work on, an IAP that laid out important facts such as the locations of hospitals, the locations of ambulance units assigned to that task force, the phone numbers of firehouses and their locations, and other pertinent information. The paperwork was very valuable because units from other boroughs were now working in areas in which they had never operated before.

(1-2) The force of the storm tossed cars about as if they were toys. (Photos by author.)
(1-2) The force of the storm tossed cars about as if they were toys. (Photos by author.)

The RRVs also restocked from the division’s tool cache with bar oil, fuel mix, and chains for the chain saws; yellow fire line scene barrier tape; road flares; safety glasses or goggles; and protective safety chaps for cutting operations. If a unit’s dewatering pump or chain saw was out of service, it could borrow a spare one from the division and return it at the end of the day.

On completion of the tour, the RRV reported back to the division with a record of its unit’s activities and briefed the TF leader on how much work still had to be completed in the areas of operation.

When we first arrived at the 15th Division in Brooklyn and entered its quarters, we asked a firefighter standing there the way to the division office. He said he wasn’t sure. “Oh, you’re detailed here, too,” we commented. “Sort of,” he replied. After the briefing, we returned to the apparatus floor to retrieve our members and saw this same firefighter with a group of firefighters who seemed to be milling around the firehouse and apparatus. Then we noticed they were all wearing Charleston (SC) Fire Department sweatshirts and jackets. No wonder he didn’t know where the division office was!

Quickly, one of the firefighters introduced himself. As we were shaking hands, I recalled our first meeting at a hands-on training class at the Fire Department Instructors Conference in Indianapolis. We asked them what they were doing up here. They said they came to help. They had driven up to the city and stayed overnight at this firehouse and were heading out with a contingent of our members to help repair roofs, cut trees, clean up, or do whatever they could to help other FDNY members at their own homes. We thanked them for putting their lives and families on hold while helping our members. They responded that they wanted to help us after all we did for their department after the Charleston Sofa Superstore fire in 2007 and for our actions after 9/11. We all shook hands and appreciated their thoughtfulness. So many departments came to help, strengthening the bond of brotherhood. Prior to leaving, we invited them to our firehouse for dinner, a shower, a place to sleep, or anything that might come up.

STREET SCENES

After reporting into the divisions on numerous mornings, our RRV was assigned to work in various neighborhoods in the borough of Queens, Staten Island, or Brooklyn’s ocean waterfront. After the morning briefing and while heading out from the division on one of the initial mornings, the crew wondered what we would encounter and how much destruction and devastation we would see. Immediately while exiting the elevated highway a mile away from the ocean, we encountered automobiles tossed around the neighborhood like marbles. There were cars sitting on top of each other, on their sides, on park benches, and strewn across the median divider and trees down on top of them everywhere you looked. We were shocked that the fury of the ocean did this much damage to the vehicles so far away.

As we proceeded past this area and down into the areas closer to the ocean, the roads turned to sand and the vehicles were mixed in, on top of mounds and sticking out of piles in the most peculiar positions. Business owners were pumping out their basements into the streets, and the stench of sea water lingered throughout the neighborhood. Residents were walking along the main avenues looking for places they could purchase necessities; everyone still seemed as if they were walking around in a state of shock. The side streets were littered with debris, and homeowners were piling mounds of furniture, personal belongings, and storm debris on the side of the road. Each home had a pile; one seemed larger than the next, but the comical thing was that the scrap men were already out picking up whatever precious metals they could get their hands on. Their trucks were so packed with items that they looked as if they’d barely make it down the road. We all chuckled when one of the guys said, “One man’s trash is definitely another man’s treasure” as the lopsided and overloaded truck passed us. Then the other firefighter noted, “They’re in a rush because the salt water will eat away the metal and their profits.”

On this particular day, our unit’s agenda was to work in specific neighborhoods and ensure that the streets were opened for emergency vehicle traffic and to allow sanitation trucks or rubber tire loaders access to remove sand and collect the massive piles of trash. In addition, we could set up our trash pump and pump out basements to assist the residents and take care of any miscellaneous tasks that arose. Numerous times, elderly residents had asked us to check on the welfare of neighbors who rode out the storm but who had not been seen. Luckily, they were all accounted for.

As we cut many trees and pumped out numerous basements, we assisted the citizens with many things. We would set up the pump and then walk over to another neighbor and help carry wet bags of debris out to the curb for trash pickup. On one street, the victims of the tragedy were mainly elderly residents who rode out the storm on the second floor of their homes. They struggled carrying the soaking wet debris to the street and welcomed our help. We were in awe of some of the details they told us about how they survived the storm and how high the water had risen and the strong winds that were blowing.

One encounter that meant a lot to us was with an elderly woman who returned to her home after the storm and saw it for the first time. She was in a state of shock and latched onto our arms for support as she walked up to the front gate in tears. Her lawn furniture and debris from throughout the neighborhood had been tossed at the home’s entrance, blocking her return. We spent about 30 minutes removing the material so she could gain access. When she finally got the key into the lock, it wouldn’t turn. We dipped the key in some chain saw bar oil and hoped that it would lubricate the lock that had been submerged under the ocean’s salt water for some time. It worked, but the wooden door had swelled so much that we had to put some pressure on it with the halligan to get it open.

Once the door popped open, we were hit with the stench of the sea water and the humidity inside the closed-up home. We also witnessed the anguish on her face when she saw for the first time her personal belongings tossed around the house and soaking in water. She was an elderly widow and was upset as we tried to help her search for some photos of her wedding that had been on the wall. We sloshed through the wet carpet and looked among the debris, but we couldn’t find them. We cleared a path for her to access the second floor where, luckily, the water hadn’t reached. As we were getting ready to leave, she gave us all hugs and began to cry, thanking us for what we did. Although we all wished we could have repaired or found some of the keepsakes she had for more than 85 years, we moved onto the next assignment in hopes of helping someone else. In the days to follow, if we were working in this neighborhood, we would drive by and check on her. Luckily, she had relatives to go live with, although she was heartbroken that her home was uninhabitable.

In the tours that followed, we spent numerous hours removing down trees that had no wires entangled in them that were blocking road access or sidewalk access to schools, senior citizen centers, and homes. At one of the schools, the janitor thanked us for cutting up three trees that blocked all three entrances to the school. He said three of his assistants’ homes were so badly damaged by the storm that they took emergency leave. He was all alone to attempt to remove the trees. Within a few hours, we had the trees removed so that the school could be accessed.

If we did come upon wires that were entangled in down trees, we would place yellow fire line barrier tape around the location and record it so the utility company could respond to ensure the power was removed and the lines untangled. Many times in the days and weeks that followed, residents approached us to thank us for finally removing the trees blocking their access. Often, they asked why it took so long. We told them that the magnitude of this storm was so severe that countless numbers of trees were down throughout the area.

In addition to cutting trees, we cut parts of the boardwalk strewn among the streets and piled the wood on the side of the road for sanitation pickup, lifted cars with our hydraulic jacks so debris such as railroad ties or planking could be pulled out from under the car so it could be moved, used the come-a-long to pull back a large tree section to open a pathway to a food and clothing distribution center, and used shovels and our wire sling to pull out vehicles stuck in the sand-laden streets.

DEWATERING

A week or so later, since most of the trees in certain areas were removed from the roadways, were too big for our unit to handle, or had wires still entangled in them, we were detailed to dewatering operations.

As we were finishing this job, the TF leader asked us our location and requested our presence at another incident. None of us knew the location, but we checked the book map and made our way there. Pulling up to the oceanfront complex, we saw a cluster of city-owned high-rise housing projects. We were assigned to help the power company pump out a few of these basements so workers could enter the power room to install a new electrical service panel, meters, and breakers. We fully understood from the supervisor of the electric company that his members could not stand in a couple of feet of water while working in the electrical rooms of these buildings. We assured him and the TF leader that we would do our best to assist them in getting these projects outfitted with power as soon as possible.

As we dressed in our hazmat decontamination gear, we made our way into the building. The raw stench of rotting garbage, sea water, and sewage hit our noses immediately. With flashlights as our only source of light, we descended two stairwells to the sub-basement, using caution not to slip on the steps that had a wet sand and muddy accumulation on them. As we got to the bottom, we shuffled our boots along the floor and walked slowly so we didn’t fall into a hole or trip over an object. Nothing would be worse than falling into this water in the dark!

We managed to get the pickup hose and strainer in a low spot, but we had to prime the pump a few times for it to pull a draft of at least 15 feet up. We found some cinder blocks and laid them up along the strainer so it would sit flat and not fall over during the dewatering operation. Operating in the dark basement with material floating around from the trash compactor and sewage made it a nasty operation. Numerous times, we would go back down into the basement, which had no windows, to check on the water level and the strainer on the pump. One time, we got the bright idea to use some of the glow sticks we had on the rig to provide light; it worked to some degree.

As we got outside, a few irate residents were returning to their apartments despite having no electric, heat, or running water. They made sure they let us know it was about time we were helping them. Prior to pumping out the water, we had to dig some runoff trenches through the sand that the ocean pushed up around the buildings. That way, the water would run off to a drain and not create a puddle in the courtyard, flood the lobby of the building, or find its way back to the basement.

The maintenance worker from the complex assigned to work with us told us he lived on the third floor and he was ordered to remain at the building during the storm. He pointed to the water line on the building, which was well over the second floor, and said he was glad he lived on the third floor and escaped with no damage. Looking past him and toward the ocean that was a couple hundred yards away, we couldn’t imagine the sight or height of the water as we went back to work.

When the gasoline dewatering pump was running, we couldn’t always hear all the noises around us; if we did, they were faint. While two of the members were refueling the pump, they heard a loud thud. Quickly, they retreated and said, “Did you see that?” Because of the lack of running water and utilities in the building, it seemed as if a few occupants were improvising and were disposing of plastic bottles of urine by tossing them out of the window. For the remainder of the operation, a set of eyes focused above when it was time to check the level and refuel the pump. Luckily, there weren’t many incidents like this, but those that occurred had us wondering if they were meant for us.

As in all the previous tours, once the sun went down, we all climbed into the rig smelling like exhaust from the saws or pumps, draped in sawdust, or wearing semi-wet clothing from contact with water as we lifted storm-soaked debris. Our eyes and skin stung from the fumes, sand, sawdust, and wind exposure. On one of the long commutes back to our home borough, we all agreed that this hurricane had brought out the best in some people and, unfortunately, also the worst. Most people, however, were calm, orderly, and kind.

There were countless numbers of trees cut down, basements pumped out, homes and areas searched for missing individuals, and miscellaneous tasks performed by these units in the days that followed. In addition, these units performed many other assignments in assisting the other city agencies (Sanitation, Parks, Environmental Protection, Police). The FDNY fully used all of these units in task forces for the first time since they were organized and without any major injury to any of their members.

Each company filed after-action reports and submitted recommendations. After learning from the experiences of Hurricane Sandy, FDNY will use these reports to enhance the operational capabilities and tool inventories of these units in case another major catastrophe hits the city.

MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 27-year veteran of the fire service and a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York. Previously, he served with the District of Columbia Fire Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He is the lead instructor for the FDIC Truck Essentials H.O.T. program. He wrote the Ladder chapter and co-authored the Ventilation chapter for Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (Fire Engineering, 2009) and is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos on www.FireEngineering.com.


Working the Streets: Stabilization and Recovery One House at a Time

BY RAY McCORMACK

No event since 9/11 has affected New York City (NYC) and the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) on such a grand and tragic scale as Sandy. Although I was not on duty when Hurricane Sandy struck NYC, I experienced its aftermath, as most FDNY firefighters did, when I returned to work and while off duty for weeks to come. Many FDNY firefighters’ homes were damaged by flood water or destroyed by fire.

When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, members of the FDNY were deployed to New Orleans to assist the fire department with daily suppression staffing shortages and storm recovery tasks. I was deployed with the second wave of firefighters for a two-week period. We rotated into firehouses for 24-hour shifts and then would either work at our camp or assist people at their residences in their attempts to save and salvage what was left of their homes.

The size and scope of the damage caused by Katrina made a deep impression on me. There were miles of neighborhoods where a simple brown line marked how high the water had risen before it finally abated. The destruction a high-water mark represents is compounded by the mold, the stagnant water, and the dirt it leaves behind. The complete loss of everything you own is so profound that it can put you in a state of shock and disbelief. FDNY members witnessed this emotional state as they worked alongside members of the New Orleans (LA) Fire Department, who were still coming to work despite their individual losses.

This time, FDNY members didn’t have to travel far to see the devastation of a hurricane. Sandy played out her destruction in response areas throughout the city, where firehouses were flooded and fire trucks were stuck in rising tides. Fires raged in places where no apparatus could gain access, leaving behind massive devastation. Many of the hardest hit neighborhoods had a high concentration of firefighter families as residents. Those closely knit beach communities that brought joy over countless summers were now burdened with a shared grief: homes flooded, homes burned to the ground, and businesses and community landmarks destroyed. This was the scenario in multiple locations within the five boroughs of NYC.

More than 1,000 FDNY firefighters were directly affected by the ravages of Sandy. The initial assistance through donations and volunteerism is always strong following a tragedy, but it is often a long climb back to normal for many. The FDNY established a strong network to assist firefighters and their families after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and now, during the post-Sandy aftermath, it would be tested again. Firefighters from all over the city reached out to assist firefighters they knew, firefighters they didn’t know, and those who just needed a hand.

A buddy and I went down to Queens after reading a simple one-line e-mail from a firefighter that contained only the address in Rockaway and a request to report “if you wish to help.” We, armed with crow bars, gloves, and respiratory masks, arrived and were assigned to the house next door owned by a teacher. We ended up working in and stripping the basement down to the studs. We were assisted by members of a bike club from Brooklyn. We then did two more homes solo. It was a full and exhausting day—and also very satisfying. The work was just up a firefighter’s alley—overhaul, wet, and dirty. The only thing missing was the smoke. The people we helped were very thankful, and so were we. It was gratifying to ease some of the burden and remove the hazard before it created a completely untenable home.

The look of the city streets post-Katrina and post-Sandy were similar: Mountains of trash and debris were piled curbside in front of every home. Of course, much of the trash had been cherished belongings the day before. Although our tasks during the initial days concentrated on removing wet drywall, decreasing the chance of mold growth, there were other challenges at other locations that could not be cleaned up as quickly.

DEWATERING

A week later, I worked with two firefighters on a specially outfitted apparatus to help pump out basements in hard-hit Breezy Point, Queens. The area had been hit by several devastating fires; one conflagration took 110 homes to their foundations. The area is different from most areas in the city in that although the homes are typically closely spaced, fire apparatus cannot just drive up to each home. Access in the majority of the area is through narrow, single-lane roads and cart paths. This area sustained heavy flooding throughout; for some residents, this was the first time aid was reaching them.

Again, we worked on three separate homes assigned to us through a command post made up of local volunteers and FDNY personnel in a large army-type tent. This “Pump and Gut” station provided community members with a direct link to help. The simplest chain of command was established: You call with your address; if you fit the criteria, a crew will be sent to pump out your flooded basement.

Hurricanes and flooding on the scale we saw in NYC are very rare; however, it is incumbent on the fire service to develop roles for its firefighting force to assist the community after the event. Although initial call volume is always high, long-term assistance by the fire department is a service platform that requires further study.

The members of the FDNY responded to calls for assistance while on duty and off duty, as they always have, with diligence and without fanfare. It is inspiring to see groups of firefighters walking the streets looking to help, using their own sweat equity to make it a bit easier for a stranger to cope. New Orleans firefighters also journeyed up to NYC to help and to reestablish that special bond formed years ago with their fellow firefighters from up north. Having seen two hurricanes and their destructive force, I know that the darkest days are behind us and that the strength of a community can be very closely tied to its firefighters and what they stand for.

RAY McCORMACK is the co- editor of Urban Firefighter magazine. He is a lieutenant and 30-year veteran of the Fire Department of New York. He delivered the keynote address at FDIC 2009. He is lead instructor for FDIC Urban Essential H.O.T. and the author of “Tactical Safety for Firefighters,” a weekly safety column.


Working the Streets FDNY Swift Water Team 2

BY JAMES P. ELLSON

Swift Water Rescue Teams as part of the FDNY Special Operation Task Force are strategically placed throughout the city during severe weather in areas of known flood zones. Personnel staffing these units are members assigned to FDNY Special Operations Command, and all receive specialized training in swift water as well as all other disciplines required for technical rescue specialists as per National Fire Protection Association 1670, Standard on Operations and Training for Technical Search and Rescue Incidents.

HURRICANE SANDY OPERATIONS

Swift Water Company 2 (SW2) was placed in service at 0700 hours on October 29, 2012, as part of the FDNY Special Operations Task Force. It was assigned to South Queens and responded out of the quarters of Squad 270. I was the officer in charge for the tour. Firefighters Patrick McKenna and Richard Bailey of Rescue 3, also swift water specialists, were assigned as Rescue Team 1. Firefighter Robert Andersen, Rescue 3, and Firefighter Scott Burik, Squad 288, also swift water specialists, were assigned as Rescue Team 2. Firefighter Andrew O’Brien, Ladder 120, a trained water rescue member, was assigned as the safety member. Members assigned to SW2 all had specialized training, but nothing could have prepared them for the tour of duty they were about to have.

Operations in Howard Beach, Queens

At 2030 hours on October 29, 2012, SW2 was dispatched by Queens Central Communications Office to respond to the Howard Beach area for reports of civilians trapped in their homes by the rising water in the streets. On arrival at the intersection of Cross Bay Boulevard and 156th Avenue, we saw that water levels higher than five feet deep prevented any apparatus from traveling farther south on Cross Bay Boulevard. At this intersection, we encountered a civilian who told us there was a private dwelling on fire around the corner with numerous civilians trapped. Members of SW2 donned their swift water suits and took limited hand tools and proceeded on foot in chest- to neck-deep water with more than a three-knot current to 94th Street. They were confronted with a fully involved two-story private house and numerous civilians in all exposed houses attempting to self-evacuate. I requested Burik to deploy the rescue boat and relayed this information to Deputy Chief James DiDomenico, Division 13, who was now the incident commander.

A chaotic scene was unfolding as the members of SW2 attempted to establish control of the scene and conduct an orderly removal of trapped civilians from their structures and take them to higher ground by rescue boat on Cross Bay Boulevard. Members attempted to enter the burning house but were driven back by flames and intense heat. They searched buildings on all exposures to which fire had communicated and removed two trapped civilians.

They turned their attention to the other side of the street. There were one-story houses with no attics and numerous civilians trapped. The water was entering the first floor, and the level was still rising. Elderly civilians and children were removed by rescue boat. During this operation, 16 civilians were removed, including three children and six elderly adults—some with medical conditions, from surrounding structures as water poured into the first floor of their homes.

Operations in Belle Harbor, Queens

On completion of duties in Howard Beach, SW2 was directed to respond to the Belle Harbor section of Rockaway, Queens, for numerous reports of St. Francis DeSales Church and private homes on Beach 130th Street on fire. Civilians and off-duty FDNY members were also reported trapped in their homes.

SW2 entered Rockaway via the Marine Parkway Bridge, which was the only passable route to Rockaway at the time. SW2 was able to get only as far east with the apparatus as the Riis Park parking lot, which is approximately Beach 155th Street. Members of SW2 deployed the rescue boat and started out to Beach 130th Street. The tremendous current and the amount of debris in the water forced members to walk the rescue boat with three personnel on each side; the water level was higher than their chests. The mile walk on Rockaway Beach Boulevard to Beach 130th Street was physically grueling. At Beach 135th Street, a civilian was found trapped in his car in the middle of the street with water just about to completely cover the roof of the car. Members removed this civilian and carried him to a private house, where he was left with civilians huddled on the second floor. On reaching the corner of Newport Avenue and Beach 130th Street, SW2 was confronted with four three-story private homes fully involved in fire south of Newport Avenue. The Harbor Light Restaurant along with 11 large Queen Anne private homes on Beach 130th Street between Newport Avenue and Cronston Avenue were fully involved in fire and a building in the rear of St. Francis DeSales Church was fully involved on Beach 129th Street along with two fully involved private houses. At the time, there was a 60- to 70-mile-per-hour wind pushing the fire north toward the Channel, where numerous occupied homes were in the path of the wind-driven fire. The water level in the street was chest- to neck-high and had a very strong current.

At this time, SW2 was the only FDNY resource on the scene. I transmitted a report to the Queens dispatcher over a citywide portable radio. Most of the homes that were burning or were about to ignite were occupied and civilians were attempting to self-rescue, but they could not navigate the water with the current.

I split my company. Members were in three two-person teams and were instructed to try to get ahead of the fire on Beach 130th Street between Newport Avenue and Cronston Avenue and to attempt to evacuate all structures in the path of the fire. Members removed numerous civilians from their homes and carried them across to the west side of Beach 131st Street to occupied homes that were out of the fire’s path for the time being.

Members of SW2 searched and evacuated more than 20 homes some moments prior to their catching fire and being totally destroyed. To remove these civilians, members of SW2 had to carry victims on their backs through the chest-deep water with a very strong current.

Battalion Chief Michael McGrath, B-74, arrived on the scene with the Rockaway companies with three engines, one ladder, and one brush fire unit. Engine (E) 266 and E-65 unbelievably hooked up to hydrants on Beach 131st Street that were underwater and were able to supply two lines each from both apparatus.

Members of SW2 split into two firefighting teams and stretched a 1¾-inch handline from E-265 while other members of the team stretched a 1¾-inch line from E-266. These teams, along with the members of E-265 and E-266, were able to get four handlines into operation from Beach 131st Street, operating through the rear yards of all the fully involved structures on Beach 130th Street. The handlines at this time were operating downwind from the fire storm. All members involved were in a very precarious position, at times being fully surrounded by fire from the now 16 fully involved large Queen Anne structures on Beach 130th Street.

Members of SW2 had no structural firefighting gear on and were operating in swift water suits, but they realized that if they did not hold this position, the homes in which all the rescued civilians were placed across the street would be in jeopardy from fire. This operation saved the remaining structures on this block.

Members of SW2 received reports that a Queen Anne on Beach 131st Street between Cronston Avenue and Beach Channel Drive had heavy fire showing on the second floor and attic. We made our way to that location and performed vent-enter-search of that structure, which had an extremely heavy smoke condition on the first floor and in the basement and a large body of fire on the upper floors.

SW2 members also searched all surrounding structures and removed six civilians to the west side of the street, which was still chest deep with water. Members of E-522 stretched a handline from Beach 129th Street to that location on Beach 131st Street and, assisted by members of SW2, were able to aggressively attack the Queen Anne structure and keep the fire on this block contained to the one building.

SW2 operated at this location for more than five hours, working under some of the harshest working conditions members have ever experienced.

Although 23 structures were lost in this area of operations, there is no question that actions taken by all members operating in Belle Harbor that evening saved countless civilian lives and numerous private homes. Some of these members were off duty, and some had retired from FDNY.

JAMES P. ELLSON is a captain in the Fire Department of New York, where he is company commander of Rescue Company 3 and rescue team manager of the Special Operations Command Task Force FDNY. He is trained to the specialist level in swift water and in all the other disciplines required to qualify as a technical rescue specialist according to National Fire Protection Association 1670.

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