Firefighting, of course, is dangerous work, but the boat crews that went out on the night of the storm were in a particularly precarious position. “There was a lot of stuff you can’t train for,” said department spokesman Vincent Scaduto. “You’re in five feet of water in the middle of a block. Cars are floating by you and there’s debris everywhere, stuff poking through the boats.”
In the middle of the night, the department received a call reporting a raging fire on Belmill Road. “That was hell getting to,” Montera recalled.
Maureen Curley, a rescue squad captain, explained that there were a number of homes in close proximity to the burning house, which was on the bay. Sandy’s 85-mph wind gusts were only fanning the flames, and it appeared that other homes would catch fire. But they did not. Bellmore fire volunteers waded through raging floodwaters, submersible water tanks in tow, and fought the fire by hand, preventing it from spreading.
“They contained the fire to that one house and saved all the surrounding houses,” Curley said. “It was an amazing job …”
A number of volunteers’ homes took on water. In one firefighter’s basement it was seven feet deep. Another’s house was totaled. But they remained on duty, knowing that lives were at risk. “We became demolition crews,” explained Paul Zuckerberg, a former rescue squad captain and a longtime volunteer, “and started ripping down sheetrock and all these other things in our friends’ and members’ houses while still answering calls.”
“Nobody had sleep,” Curley said, “but the next day, we were collecting things for people who lost everything. The firehouse turned into a clothing repository. The women in the Ladies Auxiliary collected it and took it down to the Knights of Columbus and other places.”
“It was a challenging year,” Zuckerberg added. “A lot people were exhausted, with everything else going on. This storm was second to none.”
The Bellmore firefighters ask for nothing but the community’s thanks, Curley said. And so, for all their heroism during and after what many are calling the “storm of the century,” and for all they do for the community day in, day out, their neighbors proudly thank them. They truly are the People of the Year.