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Saturday, December 20, 2014

People of the Year –– The volunteers of the Bellmore Fire Department
By Julie Mansmann and Scott Brinton, jmansmann@liherald.com or sbrinton@liherald.com
Courtesy Bellmore F.D.
Fire Department volunteers held a clothing drive in the days after Sandy.

As Hurricane Sandy slammed into the South Shore between 6 p.m. and midnight on Oct. 29, a number of frightened south Bellmore homeowners, worried that they might drown, began abandoning their homes and wading through the floodwaters, hoping to find dry land.

Many, realizing that water had consumed their community, immediately turned around and returned to their houses. Others, however, tried against all odds to make it to higher ground, only to find that there was none to be found.

Bellmore Fire Department boat crews were out in the storm, slowly, carefully motoring down Bellmore streets as if they were canals. Vincent Montera, captain of Engine Company 2, said his boat crew had gotten no more than 200 feet after launching from South St. Mark’s Street when the terrified residents of one home jumped into the boat.

“We weren’t really prepared or expecting that,” Montera said. “But the next thing you know, we had three adults, a dog, bags in the boat, and they were just scared. They had a single-story ranch house on Island Plaza, so they walked all the way from Island Plaza to Landing Avenue. They just jumped in the boat. They were scared as hell.”

The firefighters ferried them to dry land, and, less than a minute later, they were back out in the tumult, searching for residents trapped by floodwaters and in danger of drowning.

“During the storm, there were a lot of water rescues, calls for water evacuation assistance to get people out of their houses, one major house fire and hazardous materials because people’s oil tanks were floating in their basements and tipping over and leaking,” said Daniel Holl, Bellmore’s fire chief for the past 10 years.

The storm and its aftermath stretched the department to its limits, with volunteers responding to dozens of calls in a short period of time –– and saving lives and property. The Herald is proud to name the volunteers of the Bellmore Fire Department its 2012 People of the Year.

Holl said he had never seen anything like Sandy. “The only thing that comes close is maybe 9/11,” he said. “But we weren’t directly involved with that. During a 24-hour period, we had 144 calls, and then from the day after the storm until approximately number 30, there were 250 calls. We average usually 90 calls per month.”

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