Rockaways Firefighters Work 24-Hour Shifts as Blaze Dangers Amplify in Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

NY Daily News - November 11, 2012

by Clare Trapasso AND Joe Kemp

Much of the water has receded or been pumped out from the Rockaways. Now, ironically, fire poses the biggest threat to survivors trying to stay warm.

They call it The Beach House.

And like so many other houses in the Rockaways, it was flooded during Sandy. It has no heat or hot water. Only a generator is keeping the lights on.

Despite the hardships, its occupants have not fled for warmer, drier, safer quarters.

That's because The Beach House is the home of Ladder 137 and Engine 268, and its residents are city firefighters who know the Rockaways still face grave danger.

Much of the water has receded or been pumped out. Now, ironically, fire poses the biggest threat to survivors trying to stay warm.

"People are trying to heat their apartments," said Firefighter Evan Davis, who has spent the last eight years of his 10-year FDNY career at The Beach House.

Davis and his brethren are working 24-hour shifts, responding to gas leaks, blazes started by those without power, reports of smoky smells from the jittery.

The Bravest are using a backup rig because the main one was damaged in the deluge. They get nine to 15 hours off between shifts, then return to watch over the battered peninsula.

"We're rising above and beyond our circumstances,"said Davis, 38, who has been couch surfing because his own Rockaway apartment doesn't have electricity.

And as rough as things are now, they pale in comparison to what the firefighters faced as the storm surge filled the ground floor of the Beach 116th St. facility -- and then as they waded into the dark to rescue the stranded.

"It was under close to 5 feet of water,"Davis said. "The trucks were inoperable," he said.

The calls started coming in. The firefighters went out to rope off downed power lines. On the way back, they had to abandon the truck when it got stuck in the water and hitched a ride on another rig.

The flood was rising fast, and Davis admitted he was getting scared. Then came a radio call about a fire raging at Beach 116th St., with people trapped.

"I was almost relieved because it took the decision-making process to go in easier once I knew there were people trapped,"he said.

"We had to go into the water, and I was afraid I was going to get electrocuted from the downed power lines,"he said.

"We swam up the corner of 116th St. with at some points over 5 feet of water," he said. "We were clawing at the walls of the building, trying to advance against this surge of flood."

The building was being consumed by flames, and Davis could see people waving from the windows. He grabbed a ladder from a flooded rig and with a buddy carried it through the water.

"I put the ladder up to the window and this guy hands me his 6-year-old daughter and she looked terrified. So I said, 'That's a nice jacket. You look like a princess,' "he said. "She smiled. It was the highlight of my night."

"My neighborhood's destroyed,"Davis said. But he added: "It's a neighborhood made up of heroes."

He wanted people to know "there's a tremendous amount of love being revealed in the wake of this disaster." "What Rockaway needs is for people to roll up their sleeves, put on their work boots and go lend a hand."