On Tuesday afternoon, while Montgomery County and the rest of the nation were paying attention to Election Day, 80 Montgomery County fire/rescue and police personnel unceremoniously returned home from spending an exhausting week assisting Hurricane Sandy victims in New York.
The Maryland Task Force 1, made up of local medical workers, rescue experts, engineers and dog handlers with search canines, was assembled Sunday afternoon, Oct. 28, and dispatched to Fort Dix, NJ, to await orders, according to Montgomery County Assistant Chief Scott Graham. From there it was a long week of search and rescue and humanitarian relief that Graham says was similar to the situation in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
“I’ve been on the task force since its conception in 1988, and I’ve been a leader for 10 years,” Graham said. “This was probably one of the most physically and mentally taxing missions we’ve been on.”
The task force worked 12- to 15-hour days assisting the New York Fire Department and other first responders in search and rescue missions throughout Rockaways and Staten Island in New York City. The team later moved on to more humanitarian work in Nassau County, NY.
“We arrived around 8 p.m. Monday evening in New Jersey, and then at 1:30 a.m. Sunday they woke us up and immediately dispatched us into Queens. Fire stations there were already dealing with 400 to 500 water rescues because of flood waters coming up,“ Graham said. “There were also about 50 structure fires as a result of gas lines erupting and things like that.”
The team began with door-to-door searches through the area. On Tuesday, Oct. 30, they returned to Rockaways where they searched another 150 buildings, including every floor and door of apartment high rises.
“No electricity, no water, no fuel; we searched there until about 8 o’clock at night,” Graham said.
The next morning the task force was assigned to Staten Island, where they searched another 1,600 buildings alongside the New York Fire Department and a Virginia task force. After another two days spent checking on residents in Nassau County and the Long Island area, Graham says the Maryland Task Force’s mission turned more humanitarian – assisting locals and the government in distributing food and blankets to victims.
“With the task forces, our mission is to go into areas that have been devastated by man made or natural forces,” Graham said. “This was totally a different mission – somewhat Katrina-esque because it was very wide spread and affected a lot of people.”
Graham said MCFRS and Montgomery County police personnel assisted in nearly every New York borough except Manhattan.
“It was spectacular. The resources that were there were not moving into the scene as quickly because it was so wide spread,” he said. “A lot of people up there are still without power and without the things they need to regroup. The city of New York is working feverishly to get them the things they need in there.”
On Halloween, Graham said, there were children in Rockaways who had lost everything. Several members of the Maryland Task Force brought in candy that day to make sure the children were able to trick-or-treat in some capacity.
“I was so proud of the men and women and K-9s that went with us. We were airlifted in, they worked through the hurricane and the storm,” Graham said. “There were so many small things. So many acts of kindness that these guys performed.”
The task force returned Tuesday afternoon, received by Montgomery County Fire Chief Richard Bowers and words of thanks from Gov. Martin O’Malley, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett and the Montgomery County Council.
“The men and women that made up the members of MDTF1 performed above and beyond expectations and I am so proud of each of them,” said Montgomery County Fire Chief Richard Bowers in an email to Patch. “They are now resting and ready for their next activation and mission to serve, rescue and protect any area of the homeland.”
The team is on mandatory downtime until 5 p.m. Friday.
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