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Nov 6, 2012 6:04 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Superstorm Sandy Kept Firefighters Busy

Nov 7, 2012 11:42 AM

Firefighters watched through gale-force winds the unmistakable glow of a fire on Dune Road late last Monday night, at the height of Superstorm Sandy, from the other side of Shinnecock Bay. The storm surge and downed power lines rendered the roads impassable, giving responders no choice but to leave the blaze to run its own course.

Greg Celi, the chief of the East Quogue Fire Department, said he heard over the radio sometime after 10 p.m. on October 29 a report of a fire, though it wasn’t until the storm had passed that the actual location was determined to be a private residence at 42 Dune Road near the Neptune Beach Club and in the jurisdiction of the Hampton Bays Fire Department.

“We felt helpless,” Mr. Celi said. “We felt very disappointed that we could not do what we really are intended to do.”

The fire engulfed the home causing significant damage, though a portion did not burn because of the direction of the wind, John Tedesco, the chief of the Hampton Bays Fire Department, said last week.

“There was just no way we were getting there,” he said. “It wasn’t possible at all.”

His department responded the next day to snuff out the smoldering remains. The house was unoccupied during the blaze.

Southampton Town Fire Marshal Chris Hansen said flood water that entered the home and penetrated the electrical system during the storm was likely the cause of the blaze. He said he is still attempting to contact the owner.

Firefighters throughout the East End were kept busy by responding to the abnormally high volume of calls when Sandy hit last week; many small fires were ignited when trees fell on power lines or transformers short-circuited.

Westhampton Beach Fire Chief John “Chip” Bancroft said his department responded to 42 calls within the first 36 hours of the storm making landfall. The volunteer outfit averages less than two calls a day during a normal week.

“It was just run after run after run,” he said.

Mr. Bancroft’s firefighters were split between three stations—the firehouse off Sunset Avenue, the ambulance headquarters off Hazelwood Avenue and off Seabreeze Avenue—to ensure that they could reach residents once roads flooded. He said he has a hurricane plan prepared that he put into motion early on, which allowed everything to move smoothly.

Mr. Bancroft pointed out that many residents had already left their Dune Road homes, which made evacuations slightly easier compared to Hurricane Irene, which hit at the tail-end of the summer season.

Still, his department responded to numerous water rescue calls from residents who did not anticipate such severe flooding and needed assistance vacating their properties. He said his department does not respond to calls when winds are higher than 50 mph, though he added that communication alerting the department of wind speeds could have been better during Sandy.

Westhampton Beach firefighters also rescued two families off Oneck Lane after three utility poles fell, leaving live wires surrounding their homes. “That is scary stuff,” Mr. Bancroft said.

Mr. Celi said a home caught fire on Foxboro Road in East Quogue, and though it sustained significant smoke and water damage, firefighters were able to save the structure. He said his department responded to a number of other calls, some unusual, such as an oil tank that floated into a neighboring property and various gas leaks.

“The one thing I’d really like to add is that the community really seems to come together in an emergency,” he said. “Everybody seems to pull together, and that is the best thing about a community such as ours.”

Mr. Tedesco said his department responded to a handful of calls triggered by carbon monoxide alarms, though only one individual needed medical attention due to high levels of carbon monoxide. He said his firefighters have meters that they take into homes to monitor carbon monoxide levels and determine the source, which more often than not is a generator after a storm. He said the next step is to ventilate a house.

His department also responded to shed fire on the morning of October 29 on Chevy Chase Road. The fire was contained with one engine, he said, though the structure was destroyed.

Mr. Tedesco also said his department responded to four water rescue calls—cases were individuals were trapped in vehicles that stalled due to flooding or needed assistance vacating their homes. Like most East End departments, Hampton Bays has a high water truck that can navigate waters up to 3.5 feet deep.

Francis “Bud” Mazura, the press officer for the Eastport Fire Department, said his department was also busy responding to calls of downed wires, but added that Sandy did not topple as many trees as Hurricane Irene in August 2011. “I’m not sure what to attribute that to,” he said.

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