CHELSEA — It's been a year since Chelsea doorman John Bajrushi spent close to a week tending to the needs of the tenants in the building where he works — including two nights sleeping in the freezing cold and cramped storage room alongside three other staffers who chose to ride out Hurricane Sandy at their posts.
As Sandy's wind and rain lashed the city, Bajrushi stayed at his job at 225 W. 23rd St. — while his family rode out the storm in The Bronx — and continued to stay in Chelsea for the five harrowing days that followed, keeping the building running while the power and heat were out.
"In all my time here, I made sure there was no interruption, even if you have to work hard — even if you get stuck here," said Bajrushi, 55, who is about to celebrate his 30th anniversary as a doorman at the building. "But you had to work hard, you had to keep going — we had to do anything we could."
Instead of returning to his wife and two children in The Bronx on the night of the hurricane, Barjushi decided to stay in the 250-apartment building, making sure the residents he had known for years had everything they needed. His family weathered the storm in their home without losing power or seeing any flooding.
Three other staff members stayed at the Chelsea building as well, through that night and the next five days as the neighborhood slowly recovered.
Each day following the storm, Bajrushi and staffers Marko Luljjuri, Adrian Berisha and Tim Blakaj trekked uptown, where the power was on and the stores were open. They returned with armfuls of flashlights, batteries and candles, along with basic groceries like bread, milk and eggs for the residents.
"We'd put candles on each step and walk some of our older residents up five or six floors in the dark," Bajrushi said. "They were afraid to do it on their own."
For one 93-year-old tenant, Bajrushi spent hours on the phone ordering much-needed oxygen tanks. The staff also opened up the one working phone line at the front desk to let tenants make phone calls to family, FEMA and other aid agencies.
By the third day following the storm, tenant Arthur Massei, 54, let the staff sleep in his apartment while he stayed in a hotel farther uptown. The staff took care of his two cats while he was gone. It was an upgrade from the basement, but there was still no heat or power.
"What they did, it didn't come as a surprise — they're always very helpful," Massei said. "But sleeping in the basement, there are awful conditions down there — I wouldn't want to stay there. I still thank him for it."
But Bajrushi said he couldn't have imagined abandoning the building's tenants in the middle of the storm.
"We were here a long time, and when you work somewhere a long time, tenants are like family," Bajrushi said. "You can't leave them."