Firefighters, police describe experiences with Sandy relief efforts

Helping with hurricane cleanup
Photo courtesy of the Dearborn Fire Department
Firefighters Chad Bronson (left) and Michael Mattern clean up a house on Staten Island, N.Y., after Hurricane Sandy.

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — Seven men experienced with taking charge in life-threatening situations still learned a lot after recently heading to the East Coast to help Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.

The Dearborn Firefighters Union, Dearborn Fire Department and Dearborn Firefighters Burn Drive helped send seven firefighters — Capt. Steve Worden, Jeff Powell, Michael Mattern, Mike Reiter, Adam Ferrel, Matt Ferrel and Chad Bronson — and two police officers — Cpl. Jason Skoczylas and Cpl. Lee Willmuth — to New York from Nov. 8 to 11.

More than 100 people died in Sandy’s wake, in late October and early November, and the storm caused massive flooding, damage and power outages in the East Coast.

Before the trip, businesses and residents donated about $7,000 to the Fire Department to help hurricane victims. They also donated food and supplies, which the firefighters gave to New York City-area residents.

The firefighters drove a recreational vehicle to New York the Friends of Firefighters, a New York-based organization that assists firefighters’ families in need, directed the volunteers to places that needed the most help.

The men cleaned up at different areas including New York City, Staten Island, and Rockaway, which gave them and eye-opening experience, Powell said.

“It makes you appreciate a hot meal and warm shower,” Powell said.

Powell, who went to New York for the first time, said seeing the destruction was devastating, but seeing the families in need gave him strength.

“The (families) were very appreciative,” Powell said. “A couple families were in tears. It was an emotional experience.”

Worden said in an email message sent to city officials that after entering New York City, the hurricane damage and devastation worsened as they approached the coast.

“There were countless piles of garbage, debris (and houses) lined the streets … peoples’ belongings and life treasures accumulated over hundreds of years destroyed by the storm,” Worden said.

Worden said boarded up houses had messages spray painted on them such as “God Bless Staten Island” and “Please Help Us.”

“Some neighborhoods were destroyed by fire, some neighborhoods were bustling with workers and residents cleaning up, and some were eerily quiet and abandoned,” Worden said.

The volunteers spent a lot of their time cleaning houses filled with damage and debris and helping salvage belongings from houses.

Worden said that all the volunteers were affected by the suffering they saw.

“We will never forget the looks on the people’s faces as they tried to pick up the pieces of their lives,” Worden said.

Skoczylas said seeing the destruction first-hand gave him a better perspective.

“I’ve never done this before,” Skoczylas said. “But no matter how many pictures or videos you see, it doesn’t compare to witnessing it. Every single person there was affected.”

Skoczylas said as a first responder he is trained to work with people in tough situations, but volunteering pushed him a bit more.

(Sherri Kolade can be reached at