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Local Firefighters Head West, Take Shifts in Hard-Hit Areas

Fire crews head to Long Beach, Island Park, Lido Beach.

Local Firefighters Head West, Take Shifts in Hard-Hit Areas

When Hurricane Sandy touched down on the coast of Long Island over a month ago, firefighters on the south shore answered the call as if Sandy were any other storm: evacuating residents before the storm, saving those who needed saving during it, and putting out fires where fires needed to be put out.

At the end of their shifts, though, the firefighters still had to go home after the monster storm just like anyone else, and just like many others, firefighters in the Long Beach area have been spending the past month picking up pieces of the damage left behind.

So local fire crews are sending some lifelines of their own to the firefighters out west. 

Most of Suffolk County's 109 fire departments have helped out their brethren in Long Beach, Island Park, and Lido Beach over the past month, sending firefighters in 24-hour shifts to spell fire departments that felt the damage as much as everyone else in the hard-hit area.

Suffolk isn't alone, as a fire crew from as far away as Georgia sent up a fire truck to Island Park this week, and mutual aid from as far away as Binghampton has made the trip to the south shore.

"Unlike Suffolk County, where we had damage but didn't lose trucks or fire houses, these guys actually lost houses and equipment," said Greg James, chief fire coordinator with Suffolk County Fire Rescue Emergency Services. "And then of course, a lot of firemen had their own homes destroyed."

Long Beach Fire Department Commissioner Scott Kremins said that even a month after, though the number improves every day, he estimated the department is still only at about 50 percent service between the damaged equipment and trucks still being repaired, and firefighters displaced from their homes living elsewhere temporarily.

"As things progress, things are getting better," he said. Kremins added that the outreach has been "very humbling," using one example of a former firefighter in the department who had moved to Indianapolis, but came back to Long Beach and lived at the fire house for two weeks helping out after the storm.

"There are so many stories like that. People helping out, organizations, you name it," he said. "It's just amazing."

Suffolk County FRES have been coordinating with all Suffolk departments making the trip, ensuring that different parts of the county were helping out on different days. This way, neighboring districts of those up in Nassau could be on call if an extra truck or engine was needed in the case of an emergency.

James said about 15 firefighters from Suffolk have been sent each day to lend a hand.

Firefighters from Westhampton Beach F.D. are heading out west on Sunday, Chief Chip Bancroft said, and Hampton Bays Chief John Tedesco said his crew returned from a day-long shift early Friday morning, their first trip out.

Westhampton Beach F.D. also donated over two dozen sets of old gear they no longer use as well as some air packs.

"I can't really describe what it's like," Bancroft said. "You have foundations where houses were. People are making makeshift dumps, places to haul houses and materials that are in the street. People are burning wood in the street for heat. It's like a war zone."

Bancroft asked that employers of his crew understand what it is and why they are going, as many firefighters are taking vacation days to spend a 24-hour shift – 8 a.m. to 8 a.m. the next day – though some have split the shifts into two, twelve-hour shifts.

"It's not like they're taking a day to go shopping," he said. "They want to help people out."

Eastport crews are heading to the area for the first time this Sunday. Chief Ryan King is sending four members to partner with Westhampton Beach. Hampton Bays and East Quogue, Bancroft said, are attempting to get enough people together to head in for 48 hours next weekend with a tower ladder, keeping the truck there while they split the shifts in 24 hours.

"It's a nice thing we have going on, that time of year where it's the holidays for everybody," King said. "So we're trying to help everybody out the best we can."

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