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Decimated Rockaway Point Volunteer Fire Department Helps Others First

By Joe Parziale | November 5, 2012 7:54pm

THE ROCKAWAYS — The Rockaway Point Volunteer Fire Department lost more than half its fleet of vehicles, has been reduced to a dwindling number of supplies, and has set up shop in a makeshift station two buildings away from its former, now gutted and crumbling firehouse.

But they have spent the past seven days trying to provide relief to one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy, even while struggling to survive on their own.

“Just about everything we had here was destroyed,” said Eddie Valentine, 57, the chief of the department. “But the guys don’t want to leave. Some of them here you see starting to get sniffles, and I have to convince them to take a day or two off.”

Many of the volunteers have stayed every night since the storm in the station at the western edge of the Rockaways, Valentine said, even though they had nowhere to use the bathroom and few places to sleep.

“We were trying for six days to get port-a-potties,” he said. “It was just [Saturday] night that we figured out a serviceable bathroom situation.”

The old station was pummeled with over five feet of water from the storm, destroying all of five of its vehicles and tearing the building apart, Valentine said, beyond recognition. The command center and storage facility were nothing but four hollow corners of support beams stinking of mildew.

The lounge where the firefighters hung out after a day on call was gutted but for a television still mounted on the wall, wires hanging in every direction, its walls visibly shifted by storm surge. Valentine said he expected that the city Department of Buildings would condemn all but a small portion of the building.

The total damage was in the area of $20,000, Valentine added, which he hoped would be covered by FEMA and insurance. The department normally holds fundraisers like a Christmas tree sale in December, he said, but he didn’t think it was likely that they had enough time or resources to prepare.

In the meantime, they were doing what they could with only two vehicles and a small amount of fuel and other supplies.

“What we’re lacking in supplies, we’ve made up in handiwork,” said Kaitlin Doyle, 21, who has been volunteering for three years. “Everyone has been working around the clock.”

On the night of the storm, some of the firefighters were responding to the raging Breezy Point fires by jumping on trucks from the nearby Breezy Point Department. Some, she said, had even taken tractors in a pinch to get to the homes.

Local volunteers were bringing the department food and other essentials, and Valentine said the neighborhood was really responding to the work his department had done for them.

“This community has just been tremendous,” said Valentine. “And we really need all the help we can get.”