Surf City Fire Company Weathers Storm, Becomes Island Supply Distribution Hub

By MICHAEL MOLINARO | Nov 13, 2012
Photo by: Michael Molinaro

During the last two weeks, the firehouse that is home to Surf City Volunteer Fire Co. No. 1 and EMS on Long Beach Boulevard has transformed from a bleak place to a testament of true community, particularly for those first responders who holed up there during Superstorm Sandy awaiting rescue calls.

They include fire company President Peter Hartney, who has been there since 4 p.m. on the Sunday preceding the storm. “On Monday night, we just kind of watched the water go up and up and up. The water got right to the door, and (when) we got up in the morning, there was a line where it stopped right at the door of the firehouse. So we stayed dry.”

At that point, first responders were sleeping on the floor and tables in the main hall of the firehouse. That was until the Jetty apparel company donated 30 air mattresses and other supplies for them.

With all utilities out for a number of days, word soon spread that first responders needed supplies, not only for residents in the company’s coverage area, from Ship Bottom to part of North Beach, who had decided to stay through the storm, but also for themselves.

“I can say most of my first responder friends that live on the Island have lost most of what they have,” said Fire Chief Brian Stasik.  “It happens. It’s a natural disaster; it happens to everybody.”

The fire company spent the aftermath of the storm clearing impassible roads of large debris to facilitate anticipated rescues. In addition to the 15 first responders, another 10 wives, girlfriends and friends of firefighters have become full-time employees at the firehouse, working daily through a list of chores kept on a chalkboard.

“We’re here day and night, and we all chip in for each other, whether it’s cleaning and sweeping the floors, or cleaning the fire trucks when they come back after each rescue of sand and salt water,” said Stasik. “Putting the trucks in salt water is terrible; it eats, it rots, it rusts, and you have to clean it.”

The volunteers include Sandy Mannherz, who crafted daily menus for hot meals based on available supplies and helped lift the spirits of everyone walking through the door with her positive attitude.

“Sandy on three!” yelled Mannherz as Delran Fire Co. posed with the Surf City crew on Nov. 3 following what was a strong showing of the unspoken brotherhood that often exists among fire departments. “One, two, three, Sandy!”

The Delran company was there with a surprise shipment of two full truckloads of food, water, clothing and other supplies after hearing of the need for them.

“They said they were in desperate need, and people in our community, and Delran fire department said we’re going to do something,” said Deputy Chief John Martino. “Facebook got busy, and everyone brought everything over to the fire department, and we’re here for you. We have a couple members who got on board with this and started talking to local businesses for donations, and then it just turned into everybody in Delran and surrounding towns bringing in water, food, blankets, baby supplies, you name it.”

The trip to Surf City was the fifth supply run to LBI for the Delran Fire Co.

“We started yesterday, and the community outreach in Delran was phenomenal. We went until 1 o’clock in the morning. People kept dropping stuff off. Even the trucks were donated.”

Soon the firehouse became a key supply and informational hub for the mass of utility company employees working long hours to bring back basic services and safety to LBI while the Causeway remained closed to residents. During the storm and its aftermath, the firehouse took in 40 evacuees who had been rescued before they were transferred to the shelter at Southern Regional High School. Another 20 or so locals who had stayed became regular visitors at the generator-powered firehouse to warm up, charge electronic devices and pick up supplies.

“They had an edge on them. We took the edge off,” said Surf City Fire Co. Lt. Lou McCall. “All of a sudden there’s coffee and food, and people saw people they knew, and it became like a party. People got comfortable again.”

“This is just so moving, so emotional,” McCall said of the Delran donation. “It makes you feel good about humanity again. This just came out of the blue. We’ve posted pictures of the calls late at night (online) when we couldn’t go out anymore, but they only tell so much of the story. There are so much of the emotions of these people, and frankly a lot of people were here because they couldn’t get off. It wasn’t just that they were being bad and not listening.”

Local business owners have made several contributions along the way. The Dutchman’s Brauhaus on Cedar Bonnet Island retrieved food from its restaurant on Nov. 2 that had to be cooked immediately at the firehouse.

Scott Russo, a co-owner of Scojo’s Restaurant in Surf City, brought in five staff members each day to cook food that was donated for anyone in need. “Just to give back a little bit to all these people that are working so hard,” said Russo, whose restaurant was flooded with 1½ feet of water from Sandy. “We’re no worse than anyone else. It could’ve been a lot worse. We’re going to get things repaired and get people back to work.”

Scott Suydam, a cook and caterer for Okie’s Butcher Shop in Surf City, salvaged equipment from the business, which he described as being “full of mud” following Hurricane Sandy. He has been feeding more than 100 people a day, including many interstate utility workers. “We’re trying to do what we can and make do with what we have,” said Suydam as he surveyed trays of food inside his pig cooker at the firehouse. “Donate a pig and we’ll have a pig roast!”

Even personnel have been donated, in the form of additional firefighters from Trenton Mercer Airport who gave a day’s work to supplement the Surf City crew. “People here are awesome – very accommodating and nice,” said Stuart Steele, an engine captain with Trenton Mercer Airport. “We’ve been thanked about 5,000 times today by residents and fire departments. Everyone wants to take a picture.”

Supplies have been dispersed to every fire, police and EMS department throughout the Island as needed, and the firehouse in Surf City continues to serve up hot breakfast and lunch and to house a surplus for those in need. They also have had any number of organizations stop in from as far as South Carolina offering services that include property cleanup and restoration, which fire company volunteers will direct residents to upon arrival.

For more information, call 609-494-6127. Search for Surf City Volunteer Fire Co. on Facebook to view the many pictures the crew has collected.

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