Fighting fires in chest-deep water

hurricane sandy

Bob Austin, an operations specialist in News Editorial can normally be found at our Hauppauge office keeping the data center running. In his spare time he volunteers as a member of the West Babylon Fire Department on Long Island NY.

West Babylon is a seaside community with canals that run from Long Island’s Great South Bay into the town. When Hurricane Sandy hit, the storm surge reached four to eight feet, driving water up out of the canals and onto the land.  Bob and his Fire Department colleagues spent the entire ‘superstorm’ outside in the cutting winds and heavy rain. They worked with the police and the National Guard to take several busloads of citizens to safety who had underestimated the storm’s ferocity. They fought some half a dozen fires in waist to chest-deep freezing water.

Bob said: “We had a lot of rescue calls. I didn’t go in that deep – the younger guys went into the really deep water. Several houses were lost but some were saved although they were all inundated with water.”

One of the most dangerous situations he came across was the power lines. He said: “They bounce all around on the ground. We had one that set a parking lot on fire.”

“The most difficult part is watching people as they try to salvage their shattered lives. The emotional losses far outweigh the property losses. Carpeting has been replaced by 6 inches or more of mud and in many places fuel oil. Some houses look like battered doll houses with the bay facing walls gone and swept clean of all possessions.”

This effort is continuing and Bob, when not at his job with Thomson Reuters, is being called out several times each day alongside colleagues at the Fire Department to secure displaced oil tanks, stray power lines and trees. Yesterday (Nov. 8), he was called out four times to deal with transformer fires.

“Keep us all in your prayers as the cleanup will continue for some time to come,” he said.

Bob, who has three daughters, became a volunteer fire-fighter in 1996. He said: “One of my daughters had leukemia and another is diabetic. I was spending so much time around medicine, I wanted to get involved. I was going to go into the emergency medical service but my father and middle daughter were both members of the volunteer fire department, and the guys in my father’s old fire company talked me into joining the engine company.”