Tracking Recovery Progress

(1) Photos by Steven Spak.
(1) Photos by Steven Spak.

BY MARY JANE DITTMAR

In the months that have passed since Sandy made landfall in the New York-New Jersey area last October, rebuilding efforts have been taking place but there is still much to be done to bring residents, fire departments, and municipalities anywhere near the “normalcy” they had known before Sandy. Geographic configurations in some areas have been changed forever. Rebuilding will be a much more sober, deliberate process in that storm-resistant codes and proven “defensive” strategies, such as employing substantial sand dunes and high fences to protect the coastline and designing and building structures that will better withstand the assaults of storm water and winds, will be part of the preconstruction dialogue.

To this end, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was offering on April 15-17 (around press time) “Coastal Construction Courses” at Rutgers University’s CAIT Auditorium in Piscataway, New Jersey. Sponsored by FEMA’s Building Science and New Jersey Joint Field Office, the courses-“Introduction to Coastal Foundation Design,” “Construction for Design Professionals,” and “FEMA Best Practices for Flood and Wind Mitigation”-were targeted at New York and New Jersey engineers, architects, code officials, and building inspectors. Information on additional FEMA Building Science resources related to Hurricane Sandy is available at http://www.fema.gov/building-science/hurricane-sandy-building-science-activities-resources.

As is expected in the aftermath of such a “superstorm” as Sandy, rebuilding is a long-term process. Many residents, including first responders, forced to leave their damaged homes still have not been able to return to them or even finish repairing them. In some cases, decisions have to be made about whether totally destroyed or condemned houses should be rebuilt at all and, as noted above, if they are rebuilt, how (and maybe even where) to do it so that they will be better able to withstand the winds, water surges, and other elements of formidable weather events.

Some rebuilding issues have been causing dissension among residents and officials. In Ocean County, for example, some oceanfront property owners will not permit U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build dunes on their property. According to a report by Jenna Portnoy in the Star-Ledger, the rebuilding of sand dunes destroyed by Sandy (for which $3 billion has been allocated) was to begin the first week of May. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said at a town hall meeting that he “will personally call out oceanfront property owners who refuse to sign easements giving the Army Corps of Engineers permission to build dunes on their property.” Christie said that towns without dunes were left vulnerable to devastating wind and rain. (Star-Ledger, nj.com http://blog.nj.com, accessed 4/9/13.)

Tracking Recovery Progress

In Fire Island, New York, more than 4,000 structures survived even though they were in need of repairs. The carefully maintained wall of 10- to 20-foot sand dunes was credited with protecting the area from additional damage. The dunes were demolished by the storm. Federal, state, county, town, and local officials will have a say in what can and can’t be rebuilt. For some officials, this should be a time to assess and explore ways to build so that structures can better withstand future storms.

PROGRESS EVIDENT

So far, some homes and boardwalks have been rebuilt, municipal water towers are back in service, and many fire hydrants that Sandy put out of service have been repaired or replaced.

Among the signs that municipalities have been moving forward with rebuilding plans and toward “summer as usual” activities are the following:

  • In Mantoloking, the borough council awarded a $1.6-million townwide demolition contract that was to begin April 22. Mantoloking is also using FEMA funds to clear 40 private properties of debris and homes that were made unsafe by Sandy (Brick.Patch.com, Daniel Nee, ed.).
  • Toms River was planning to have its sewers and inlets cleared of sand during April, also using FEMA funding (TomsRiverPatch.com).
  • Manasquan officials have announced that its beaches and boardwalks would open on May 23. A ribbon-cutting ceremony and other festivities would mark the occasion (Manasquan-Belmar.Patch.com, Catherine Galioto).
  • In Belmar, the “Buy a Board” campaign ended April 30. Donors from all over the world contributed from $25 to more than $5,000 to assist in rebuilding the boardwalk. More than $550,000 was raised through this project (Manasquan.Patch.com).
  • In Seaside Heights, more than half of the boardwalk reconstruction was reported to have been completed on April 8; the deadline for completion was May 10. Beach cleanup was still needed (Manasquan.patch.com).
  • New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced in April that Long Island State Park and its beaches were on schedule to open by Memorial Day.

ASSISTANCE INITIATIVES

Numerous individual, group, organizational, and government initiatives have been directed at helping those severely impacted by Sandy. Below is just a sampling of these projects and resources that were operational at press time.

Fire Departments

Some fire stations were only partially functional in April and were still in need of repairs. On the barrier islands, for example, all fire departments were operating even though their stations had not been completely repaired. Some communities needed to recoup the apparatus, vehicles, utility vehicles, and other equipment lost. Little Ferry and Moonachie fire stations that were extensively damaged by floodwater from the Hackensack River have been recovering slowly. These municipalities do not own their stations; therefore, the firefighters are responsible for the repairs. In addition, many firefighters and other responders were among the residents whose homes had been destroyed or damaged.

Tracking Recovery Progress

Fire departments and fire service leaders in areas affected by Sandy may be able to obtain financial assistance from FEMA to assist with recovery efforts, according to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA). The Public Assistance (PA) Grant Program has been approved for most areas impacted by the storm, explains the USFA. The program’s focus is to assist with the recovery efforts involving critical infrastructure, fire station damage, and lost equipment and vehicles. The USFA is urging fire service leaders in these areas to bring their departments’ damages and losses to the attention of county and state emergency management officials, which is the first step in implementing the PA Grant Program eligibility review process. Additional information is at http://www.fema.gov/public-assistance-local-state-tribal-and-non-profit.

The bond of brotherhood that has bound members of the fire service since its inception has been the impetus for assistance initiatives as well. One example is the Brothers4Brothers Fund established by the Fraternal Order Of Leatherheads Society (F.O.O.L.S.) (see sidebar “The Brothers4Brothers Fund”).

In November 2012, Steve Buscemi, actor and former Fire Department of New York (FDNY) firefighter, recorded a public service announcement (PSA) for firefighters victimized by Hurricane Sandy. The PSA is at http://www.firerescue1.com/fire-ems/articles/1369524-Video-actor-Steve-Buscemi-records-PSA-for-Sandys-firefighter-victims/. Buscemi, the star of Boardwalk Empire, was an FDNY firefighter for four years in the early 1980s.

Tracking Recovery Progress

Assistance for first responders has been/is being provided by a variety of organizations, such as the following:

  • Rebuilding Together Bergen County has committed to repairing the water-damaged electrical system and interior walls of Little Ferry Hook & Ladder #1.
  • Harry Sandwith, owner of Dirty Harry’s Detailing in Rochelle Park, New Jersey, recruited members of the national detailing industry to donate four days of their time (January 22-25, 2013), their skills, some money, and products to restore Union Beach’s 14 damaged apparatus. Three of the four fire stations in Union Beach were flooded out. Sandwith is a retired police officer from Jersey City, New Jersey. His son, Joseph, also a Jersey City police officer, assisted with the project.
  • Philanthropy New York. This nonprofit organization is the principal professional community of philanthropic foundations based in the New York City region. Its 285 member organizations include the leading private, corporate, family, and public grant-making foundations in the world; each year, they provide support totaling more than $4 billion to thousands of nonprofit organizations and nongovernmental organizations in New York, in the United States, and around the world, which focus on an almost endless range of issues and concerns. Its dedicated Sandy disaster response page, which is continually updated, is http://www.philanthropynewyork.org/s_nyrag/sec_wide.asp?CID=20616&DID=59179.<
  • The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Disaster Relief Fund has awarded more than $300,000 in immediate financial assistance to more than 600 firefighters and their families in New York and New Jersey during the time they were awaiting word from FEMA and their insurance companies. Information on the Sandy relief initiatives is at www.firefighting.org.
  • Friends of Firefighters, Inc. (FoF) is a New York City (NYC) not-for-profit corporation that began as a community-based group in response to the events of September 11, 2001. It is dedicated to addressing the physical, mental health, and wellness needs of New York City’s firefighters and their families. Its ongoing mission is to provide long-term support and services through confidential counseling, wellness services, and other assistance. It does not provide money. Access it at www.friendsoffirefighters.org. Visitors to the site can donate money, donate merchandise (list provided) for its distribution center (which was scheduled to close the end of April), purchase an item on a wish list, or volunteer their services. FoF also operates a “retired” fire station (built in 1797) that houses firefighters who travel to NYC to volunteer their services to assist firefighters.
  • The Firefighter-to-Firefighter Assistance Program, announced by New Jersey Gov. Christie, anonymously matches firefighters who need help with firefighters who wish to donate their time to help New Jersey firefighters whose homes have suffered severe storm damage. This volunteer assistance initiative covers a broad range of recovery and rebuilding options that include demolition, shoveling, plumbing, electrical work, roofing, waterproofing, and carpentry. It does not offer financial support. Firefighters wishing to be part of this program can register at http://www.nj.gov/dca/divisions/dfs/hurricane_sandy.html.

William Kramer Jr., acting director/state fire marshal at the New Jersey Division of Fire Safety, announced on March 22 that fire departments needing apparatus or other equipment can post their needs on the Division’s Web site, where it will be viewed by fire departments throughout the world that may be able to help: http://www.nj.gov/dca/divisions/dfs/hurricane_sandy.html.

  • The National Volunteer Fire Council Support Fund provides a $250 stipend to volunteer first responders whose homes have been impacted by a state or federally declared disaster; go to www.nvfc.org.
  • Access to New York State’s Sandy Action Plan is available at http://nysandyhelp.ny.gov.
  • The New York City Bravest Disaster Fund, a 501-3(c) organization, has been accepting donations to help United Fire Officers Association members in their rebuilding endeavors. All donations received are used only to assist active and retired fire officers known to have suffered catastrophic property loss in this disaster, explains the site. At the time the Fund’s Web site was last updated, more than 150 active fire officers were known to have completely lost their homes from the flood or fire directly related to the storm. The total number of retired fire officers affected was still undetermined. Many fire officers and their families were living in temporary shelters (http://www.ufoa.org/).

MARY JANE DITTMAR is senior associate editor of Fire Engineering and conference manager of FDIC. Before joining the magazine in January 1991, she served as editor of a trade magazine in the health/nutrition market and held various positions in the educational and medical advertising fields. She has a bachelor’s degree in English/journalism and a master’s degree in communication arts. She writes a health and a technology column for fireengineering.com.


The Brothers4Brothers Fund: A report on the efforts launched to help “Restore the Shore”

In the seven months since Hurricane Sandy devastated the Jersey Shore, local newspapers’ front page articles have focused on organizations and people who are organizing efforts to help residents who were devastated by Sandy. From loading totes full of needed supplies to helping a local elementary school to attending a self-styled “tailgate party” designed to aid a local fire department in building playgrounds, the vast majority of these relief efforts have been successful.

In the months following Sandy, many efforts have partially restored what businesses, communities, and families had lost and in some instances, the efforts have allowed businesses and families to expand or improve what Sandy washed out to sea. With every effort established, the goal for those who so generously gave has remained the same: Do what you can to help “Restore the Shore.” As the national news continues to fade away from Sandy, many of the efforts continue to provide relief for so many who have lost so much.

In New Jersey, the Brothers4Brothers fund has focused solely on helping Jersey Shore firefighters begin their own rebuilding process, allowing firefighters from across the country to assist those firefighters who lost all of their possessions to Sandy.

F.O.O.L.S. International President Rich Stack said, “From the moment we began receiving reports about the devastation Sandy caused, we contacted the Brothers in New Jersey and offered any support we could lend. It’s part of why our organization was formed and strengthens the bond which allows us to ‘Do the Right Thing’ for those who were on the frontlines for Sandy.”

Mantoloking (NJ) Fire Department Chief Larry Gilman says, “If you ask any Jersey Shore firefighter if they can recall the exact moment they realized their own home or even their firehouse was being ravaged by Sandy, most will be unable to do so because they were too busy doing what they have been trained to do-that is, help others. He continues, “We’ve had wind and rain events before and have weathered them fine. It’s an accepted part of being on the Jersey Shore-or any coast, I would imagine. We knew this was going to be really bad when we heard our building being taken apart by the winds and saw the water beginning to pour into our apparatus bays. There was nothing we could do but pray that we would have a building left to come back to.”

As the cleanup from Sandy began, many of the Jersey Shore chiefs, district chiefs, and fire commissioner boards realized a similar need: How best to rehabilitate firefighters and fire apparatus that were worn out and badly in need of repair.

Art Bloomer, president of the New Jersey chapter of F.O.O.L.S. says, “When the initial requests for assistance went out, we began making sure there was something we could do that would not interfere with ‘official efforts’ or violate existing protocols. We have always had a Brothers4Brothers fund in our chapter and have had to use it on sporadic occasions over the course of the past 10 years. With Sandy, we knew our Brothers4Brothers fund would be the vehicle we needed to provide immediate assistance to firefighters along the Jersey Shore who gave so much, yet were hit so hard.”

By combining the talents of a photographer in Missouri, a printing company in Idaho, and contributions of firefighters from more than 40 states, the Brothers4Brothers fund has hand-delivered nearly $10,000 in aid to firefighters who have struggled to regain some financial footing. The fund has also provided the inspiration for many out-of-state firefighters to travel to the Jersey Shore and staff local stations, allowing local firefighters some much needed time to begin rebuilding their lives.”

Bloomer continued, “The fund continues to be the link between businesses, corporations, and ‘friends’ of Jersey Shore’s fire departments to donate equipment and supplies for firefighters and fire stations alike.”

Aaron Heller, New Jersey F.O.O.L.S. trustee, said, “Right after Sandy hit, many firefighters who lived outside of New Jersey wanted to get in their cars, drive here, throw on their gear, and help where they could. One of the hardest things we had to do was to tell them to wait because we were not ready to accept that kind of help yet. While many of the firehouses were being staffed by fire departments from other areas of New Jersey, we were able to devise a way to supplement those efforts and provide even more assistance.

Heller continued, “It was incredible to see firefighters from across the country travel to New Jersey at their own expense and spend time at local firehouses. Many brothers and sisters gave so much of themselves. Their efforts continue to be greatly appreciated.”

As the Jersey Shore firefighting community continues to rebuild, the Brothers4Brothers fund remains an avenue of relief for many individual firefighters who lost everything they owned. For some, it has been their only financial relief.

Bill Hopson of New Jersey F.O.O.L.S says, “If you look at our fundraising logo, the design is intended to reflect the efforts of all firefighters, especially those here in New Jersey, to help ‘put the pieces’ of the Jersey Shore back together. We believe it is important for us to continue this effort because some of the real hardships have only been recently discovered. For some firefighters, Sandy exacted a physical and emotional toll that cannot be measured. We need to ensure that if there is a way for us to help, we can.”

As with any relief effort, maintaining the credibility of and sustaining the fund continues to be a challenge. In the months since Sandy, the novelty of digesting the devastation from Sandy has long passed. When you visit the Jersey Shore this summer, you will see rebuilt boardwalks, some rebuilt homes and many firehouses restored to full use. What cannot be seen is how the Brothers4Brothers fund kept some Jersey Shore firefighters afloat during a very tough winter.

From the outset, the Brothers4Brothers fund was not designed to compete with any other nationally recognized relief effort or to garner front page status. The fund remains a way of allowing the firefighter community to quietly contribute to restoring the lives of Jersey Shore firefighters and “Do the Right Thing.”

Carl and Janet Haddon from Five Star Printing in North Fork, Idaho, say, “We’re not surprised that we continue to print orders for shirts associated with the fund. It continues to be an honor to be associated with this type of effort, knowing the fund goes directly to helping those brothers and sisters who were devastated by Hurricane Sandy. We appreciate the ability to help ‘Restore the Shore.'”

To contribute to the Brothers4Brothers fund, send your contributions to:

N.J. F.O.O.L.S. Brothers4Brothers Fund
10 Soden Court
Hamilton, New Jersey, 08610

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