Firefighters After the Storm: Pulling Ceilings for Sandy

Article and photos by Ray McCormack

Sandy is the superstorm that has ravaged portions of the East Coast, especially New York and New Jersey. Coastal areas, of course, were the hardest hit, with extensive home, business, and cultural damage. Firefighters were there through it all, placing themselves in danger to deliver service above and beyond to those they protect.

The damage America is seeing draws a parallel to Hurricane Katrina in a lot of respects. Many people today are now homeless and many have had their homes turned into mere shells of shelter. Firefighters battled rain, wind, fire, and flooding in an attempt to save lives and property. This is what firefighters do and do best. Many firefighters have suffered loss equal and greater to that suffered by members of the community, yet they persevere.  Outstanding!

But once the water recedes and the fire goes out, how do firefighters help in an official capacity? Urban Search & Rescue (USAR) task force teams mobilize to do systematic search and rescue of properties to clear up and account for the missing and assess structural damage, but what about the balance of the firefighting force?  Where do they fit in? The answer, of course, depends on a lot of variables–the local fire department’s ability to mobilize, to ask for assistance, and formulate plans for firefighters to take on a bigger role in the returned stabilization of the community.

Storm damage has left a large portion of homes uninhabitable, without power and water, but one of the first steps for a homeowner to take is to remove all of the waterlogged items from their homes. For many, that included multiple floors of living space. Piles of trash and items that before the storm struck had value are now just a sad reminder that material possessions have a short life span. The next step is to remove the wet walls, floors, and ceilings damaged by flood waters.

Our natural instinct to salvage as much as possible for a homeowner is inherent in firefighters who have seen the ravages of fire every day. Like fire overhaul, we must be careful not to be tricked by not opening up enough. Looking at walls that seem to be okay often hides seawater logged batts of insulation and ready-to-crumble drywall.

The fire service puts out its fires, but Mother Nature’s events call for a continued fire department presence. We can offer so much to those that have suffered post-storm, but we have to seriously examine how to take a service that traditionally doesn’t  involve post-fire continuous operations to a new level. Until then, a small volunteer army is doing what they can, pulling ceilings for Sandy.

Ray McCormack was part of a Fire Department of New York task force in 2005, spending two weeks in New Orleans post-Katrina assisting the New Orleans (LA) Fire Department with fire protection and volunteering in community recovery efforts.


Ray McCormack: Tactical Safety for Firefighters

RAY McCORMACK is a 30-year veteran and a lieutenant with FDNY. He is the publisher and editor of Urban Firefighter Magazine. He delivered the keynote address at FDIC in 2009 and he is on the Editorial Board of Fire Engineering Magazine.


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