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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Putnam County agencies assist with Hurricane Sandy relief

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Even when they weren't dealing with high waters, local emergency personnel helping with Hurricane Sandy relief in New York and New Jersey found city streets clogged by sand and even boats. Crews from Operation Life, and the Greencastle and Cloverdale Township fire departments have spent time aiding in the relief efforts.
Emergency personnel from three different Putnam County agencies spent time on the East Coast this week doing what they are trained to do -- helping people in their time of need.

The devastation of Hurricane Sandy led to the mobilization of responders from across the country, all converging on the northeast as the region tries to recover from the flooding and other damage caused by the storm.

Among those responders were personnel from Putnam County Operation Life, the Greencastle Fire Department and the Cloverdale Township Volunteer Fire Department.

The Operation Life team spent three days in New Jersey, while the firefighters remain in Long Beach, N.Y., until Nov. 11.

Representatives of both groups shared similar reflections even though they deployed to different parts of the region. Their strongest feelings were for the people.

Greencastle Fire Chief Bill Newgent praised the resilience of the people of the Barrier Islands.

"They got up on their second floors and they rode this storm out," Newgent said. "They're trying to recover the best way they can."

Operation Life EMT Jon Addler praised the kindness of the people of New Jersey, saying they don't fit the stereotypes of East Coast residents.

"The people of New Jersey were so appreciative that we were there," Addler said. "At one point there were people who got out of their cars, stood up and clapped (as the ambulances passed)."

Other moments were a bit bleaker.

"They were so overwhelmed. It was like seeing zombies walk the streets," Addler said. "They just had that blank look on their face of, 'I don't know what to do next.' They were carrying the clothes on their backs and carrying a bagful of what they could find and going to shelters."

The missions of the two teams were a bit different. Addler and fellow EMT Mike Smith deployed as part of a strike team that included 24 ambulances, one mass casualty vehicle and a number of support vehicles.

Their job did not include giving very much medical attention, however. Instead, it was about support for water rescue missions and checking on the well-being of the residents.

Their third day involved taking over 911 response from the overwhelmed local responders and just "giving them a breather."

"Most of them don't have anything left but the clothes on their backs" Addler said.

The high water left a mess of water, sand and even boats on the city street, a different story from the wind damage often found in Midwest disasters.

"There wasn't a lot of stuff blown over, just a lot of water," Addler said.

The effects of the water are what the fire team is continuing to deal with, Newgent said.

"The floodwaters had receded," he said. "The big thing we saw was no power, damaged infrastructure."

Restoring that infrastructure is the charge of the 23-person incident command team headed by Newgent.

Power is out. Water and sewer services are not operational. There is also no phone or Internet service.

"Our primary mission is we are here to coordinate and help with restoring critical infrastructure, public safety and human services," Newgent said.

Crews are starting from square one in getting things operational again, from power to sewers to city hall.

Other Greencastle representatives include Tom Swenson, who is doing IT support, and firefighters Brian Poole and Kenny Shepherd, who are operating the District 7 Command Vehicle.

The crew from Cloverdale is performing the essential duties of keeping the team self-sufficient, not using up local supplies.

"When we come to this community, we have to be self-sufficient," Newgent said.

Besides the 23 people from the nine counties of District 7, teams from two other parts of the state joined the effort after deployment elsewhere, bring the total force to 54 members.

The chief said things are looking up, but it remains a long process.

"Each day it's getting better," Newgent said. "We're taking small bites and the end result is benefiting these residents."

The District 7 team is on a 14-day deployment, but the work will be far from over when its Nov. 11 deadline hits.

"When we're done, another team will come and take over," Newgent said.

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